How Can Leaders Foster Connection in a Disconnected Workplace?

Following the epidemic and the widespread adoption of the work-from-anywhere policy, 65 percent of employees say they feel less connected to their coworkers. Disconnected employees are a significant reason for resignations costing U.S. businesses up to $406 billion each year. According to research, lonely workers had decreased productivity, a higher chance of attrition, more lost days at work, and lower job quality. Meanwhile, workers who have a strong sense of belonging have a lower risk of turnover, higher job performance, and fewer sick days. 

Promoting friendship and genuine connection at work is an antidote to workplace disengagement. According to one study, 77 percent of respondents said that developing close relationships with coworkers was the most unmistakable element to predict job happiness. Salary came at ninth place on the list. According to surveys, just 30% of employees have a best friend at work, but those who do are seven times more engaged. Employees who work alongside a best friend are more likely to create better work, have greater well-being, engage customers, and are less likely to get hurt on the job. Employees who do not have a best friend at work have a 1 in 12 likelihood of being engaged. There is only a 1% chance that you would report being fulfilled in life if you lack meaningful work interactions.  

As the Great Resignation continues, here are four methods to enable your group to create healthier workplace connections.

1. Make connecting with coworkers a habit.

Workplace connections are assumed to happen by accident. They were created during the workday, whether through water-cooler moments, hallway talks, or getting a cup of coffee. With it becoming more challenging to duplicate spontaneous moments of human connection in a hybrid or remote setting, we should understand that work friendships don’t just happen. They need three elements to succeed: optimism to feel fulfilled, vulnerability to feel secure, and consistency to feel recognized.

Create consistent bonding routines that provide praise and thanks regularly. Gratitude Mondays, for example, are a weekly tradition in which workers begin a week by expressing something they are thankful for. Another example is Storytelling Fridays, where a person shares a unique personal story each week where teammates can ask questions. Storytelling and vulnerability build a sense of belonging by creating compassion and curiosity. 

2. Make it easy to get help.

Seventy-five to ninety percent of the support employees offer one other begins with a request. This can happen in team meetings with what some people call a reciprocity ring. One person shares a problem they are having and the group gives contacts, suggestions, and resources to back up their request.

Keep track of your requests in a shared spreadsheet and use a chat to provide support in between meetings. This structure provides your colleagues with a way to consistently ask for help. When workers engage in one other’s personal development, we create a culture in which friendships flourish.

3. Make onboarding more interactive.

Onboarding is a critical first step in promoting workplace relationships. Millions of employees have begun employment since the pandemic and have never met one of their coworkers in person. This poses outsized problems for individuals early in their careers. 

Experience activities are the most valuable element for onboarding new employees. Board of Advisors is one practice where employees in an onboarding group take turns presenting their most pressing issue — the thing that they are most unsure or interested in — with the rest of the group. Other new employees in the group then may give advice, insights, and support to each individual. When a new employee admits to not understanding how to do something, they become more receptive to seeking assistance from colleagues. The onboarding team feels the psychological safety that comes from being where they can ask questions, acknowledge their mistakes, and try new things. They quickly feel what it is like to have mutual support, creating deeper connections with each other.

4. Make rest a reality.

Following a pandemic that has worsened a crisis of alienation and isolation, we must lead with compassion and take better care of one another. Almost one-fifth of Americans have no close social relationships, a double-digit rise from 2013.

We must prioritize employee health for friendship to develop. These can include encouraging mental health services and work-free hours so employees can refuel by spending more time with friends and family. Employees are four points less lonely when they can leave work at work and seven points less lonely when they have a work-life balance.

Increasing the number of phone calls and in-person chats at work also helps to reduce loneliness. Encourage workers to go for a walk together with someone significant in their lives. Promote “phone a friend breaks” during the workday to contact a friend. Employees who take a break every 90 minutes report a 50% increase in health and well-being, a 50% increase in creative thinking ability, and a 30% increase in attention. Try starting in-person or virtual team meetings with “five minutes of play” in the form of an interactive icebreaker, connecting exercise, or game. Playing with your coworkers leads to more robust bonds and more remarkable teamwork. 

Human connection is everyone’s task in today’s lonely world. It’s a vital component of designing a great workplace and a more resilient organization.

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