The American workplace has gone through numerous changes over the last few decades. It used to be, you went to work, did your job, and left. That was before the internet, social media, and global, instant contact. These technological advances have influenced how we relate to others and how often. Connecting with other people has not only expanded in form and reach, but a new awareness has grown with its evolution. It’s been shown to be an essential element to healthy workplaces and healthy lives.
Social connection as a part of well-being
The concept of “total well-being” encompasses a range of aspects related to the human experience. No longer confined to physical and mental health, well-being in its total form takes into consideration the financial, emotional, social, and even vocational aspects of our lives.
When we speak of social wellness, we’re referring to how we get along with others, what kind of relationships we develop, and how we sustain our relationships. If we transfer that to the workplace, we’re speaking about how we relate to our co-workers, how we interact with company leaders, and how we regard the company itself, as well as how our relationships at work influence our performance.
Studies have shown that people who are socially connected and have stable and supportive relationships are more likely to make healthy choices and to have better mental and physical health outcomes. They are also better able to cope with hard times, stress, anxiety, and depression. (1) This is especially significant when it comes to the workplace, where you share space, time, and tasks with other people.
The day-to-day in the office or shop
If we look at stress, one of today’s most common concerns, it’s difficult for employees to do their jobs well if they’re dealing with even small levels of it. It can distract and interrupt concentration. In chronic doses, stress can lead to illness, irritability, low energy, and absenteeism. The interesting thing is that social connection can reduce stress.
In fact, social connectedness is one of the greatest predictors of happiness, which reduces feelings of anxiety and angst. In “The Happiness Advantage,” author Shawn Achor says that people who survive stress the best are the ones who increase their social activities and connections in the middle of when they feel overwhelmed. This is the opposite of what most people do. (2)
Social connectedness is also linked to productivity. A study published in the Harvard Business Review found that employees who reported having strong social connections at work were more engaged, more productive, and less likely to burn out than those who did not. Another study found that employees who had close friendships with their colleagues were seven times more likely to be engaged in their work and were more likely to enjoy their job. (3)
Employers can be motivators
Employers can help their employees with social well-being by supporting and encouraging ways to stay socially connected. Here are a few ideas:
- Get together. Organizing activities such as team-building events or volunteer days gives employees the opportunity to meet and chat. You can also meet virtually and ask icebreaker questions on non-work topics to get conversations going.
- Create a safe space. Practicing inclusive behavior and empathetic leadership helps create a work environment where employees feel comfortable sharing their views and opinions. This naturally leads to better interactions and closer relationships.
- Be a role model. Practicing the behaviors that you would like to see in employees helps them along the path to sociability. As a leader, ensure you’re friendly, approachable, and open to social interactions. Take opportunities to show that connecting with others is a business benefit.
- Use technology. If your team works remotely, technology is your best asset. Take advantage of video conferencing, texting, and collaboration software to facilitate communication and meetings. Schedule non-work-related conferences so employees can get to know each other.
- Offer support. Providing mental health resources for employees who need help is critical to assisting them in improving their relationships with others. Employee assistance programs (EAPs) that include confidential counseling sessions are excellent for prioritizing emotional and social well-being.
Once just a casual thought, social well-being plays a significant role in our more connected, more transparent society. In the business and work world, it paves the way to meaningful interaction with others and productive relationships. At the same time, good relationships with our co-workers and leaders can have a secondary payoff: they can open the door to increased collaboration, creativity, and consequently, business success.