Three benefits to wellbeing we gain from social connections:

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October 7th, 2019

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As a business leader have you considered the importance of the role of friendship in your organisation? In the run up to World Mental Health Day I hope this blog will encourage you to think about how your culture and work practices support the formation of social connections.  I also offer some practical tips to empower managers to foster social connections in teams & organisations.

Whether you are a leader, an HR manager or  HR Business Partner in an organisation, the wellbeing of your employees is likely to be high on your agenda. Having a resilient workforce that is healthy physically, psychologically and emotionally, impacts engagement, efficiency and outputs in a positive way, also reducing absenteeism and work-related stress. The approaches that can be taken by organisations to build resilience and promote wellbeing are many and varied yet, providing opportunities to get to know each other in a meaningful way is often overlooked. What follows is an outline of three benefits social connections have for your employees’ wellbeing.

  1. Belonging

The sense of belonging or connection your employees feel to the organisation and to a team can directly influence their ability to flex and adapt in times of challenge, ambiguity or change. From research conducted in Roffey Park Institute, we found that in trying times those who stay resilient have a wide network of friends and colleagues to draw on, both to get things done and to provide support. While this network can exist outside the organisation, in order to build or maintain resilience, having people from within the organisation creates a sense of shared understanding and a different type of empathy leading to types of support that can be effective for individual work performance.

  1. Growth

The benefits of social connections run in both directions. Giving support can be as beneficial to our wellbeing as receiving it because helping others can deepen our sense of connection. Through reciprocal sharing of time, space and resources with others a sense of connection emerges which is closely associated to trust. This idea was supported by the work of Amjad et al. 2015, who reported that employees who are on friendly terms with one another are more likely to engage in “philanthropic behaviours” by providing fellow workers with help, guidance, support, advice, feedback and suggestions on various professional affairs. Through these types of interactions organisations find that their employees learn from each other and develop both personally and professionally.

  1. Job Satisfaction

In 2017 a paper by Roffey Park Institute entitled; The People Factor: Productivity’s Missing Link, it was suggested that social connections play a key role in helping people achieve a sense of job satisfaction and job security. Researchers such as Chirkov (et al., 2010) explain that this is because friendships are said to reduce workplace stress, increase communication, help employees and managers accomplish their tasks, and assist in the process of accepting organisational change. It is widely acknowledged that employees who feel positive both in terms of their sense of job security and job satisfaction are more resilient and effective employees.

How Do I Build Workplace Social Connections?

So, what can be done to promote opportunities for developing social connections in organisations?

  • It has been shown that encouraging informal conversations (or ‘water-cooler’ chats)  and bonding has shown to increase productivity. Thankfully, this challenges the old notion that; if you are not at your desk with your head down, you are not working. It turns out we can pick up a great deal of useful information, advise and support in other areas of the organisation too.
  • Offering initiatives focused on development and learning such as buddy systems, traditional and reverse mentoring, and shadowing can serve to build deeper connections between employees.
  • Using small group situations such as action learning sets where people are exposed to the ideas and insights of others in a small safe situation can benefit the creation of connections within or across teams.
  • Having a weekly team coffee that is for sharing ideas and solutions rather than focused on the day-to-day, can support employees with a language to enhance interpersonal engagement.
  • Leading by example. Being a leader that is visible and present, as it is hard for employees to value friendships within an organisation if they view their leaders as isolated and highly self-dependent.
  • Holding appreciation events (in a very authentic way, or they can come across as cheesy) which allow the recognition and celebration of social support given within the organisation.
  • Using social media that focuses on allowing people to share their non-task specific interests and skills to allow people to connect over commonalities.
  • Hosting social events where leaders are also present and a sense of belonging to the organisation is cultivated.
  • Ensuring that the culture of the organisation is one of compassion and respect, because, a culture that is based on these types of values permits positivity which in turn boosts morale and wellbeing.

The list above is by no means exhaustive and there are probably many things that your organisation is already doing very well to enable social connections to form. If so, I invite you to consider the value of those initiatives, in terms of who they are reaching and how they are benefiting the organisation. I also invite you to consider how leaders are modelling the importance of forming friendships and social connections within your organisations, as employees are strongly influenced by leadership behaviour. If you are beginning to think about ways of promoting social connections within a team or an organisation, then feel free to start with ideas on the list, and keep in mind the importance of authenticity, as employees are more likely to buy in to something they believe to be genuine.

Programmes to learn more:

Essential Management Skills – Organisations need managers that can get the best from their teams and achieve results.  Whether you are new to line management or an experienced manager, people management is often the most challenging aspect of the role.

Introduction to Facilitation Skills Essentials – Participants will gain an understanding of how to facilitate groups effectively.  They’ll understand how to engage groups in fruitful discussion and work together productively leading to better dialogue, decision making and collaboration in teams and groups.

Personal Effectiveness & Power –  Leaders and managers need to draw from a range of techniques and approaches to influence people in a positive, collaborative, team-focussed way. That way, the job gets done and everyone stays on board.