Creating a Culture of Connection
What is the value of human connection? We are learning that it’s much greater than previously thought. A growing body of research reveals the positive impact human connection has on wellbeing and productivity in our workplaces, educational institutions and community at large. At a time when technology has the power to infringe on personal connection, it’s more important than ever for leaders to foster opportunities for employees to come together and engage in authentic exchange.
Connection at work – According to research conducted by the firm Globoforce, over 90 percent of workers spend upwards of 30 hours a week with colleagues, while only 52 percent of people spend that much time with family. Yet the Gallup Poll’s findings indicate less than 1/3 of employees are ‘engaged’ at work and experience a strong connection to their workplace. When employees are strongly connected at work, they expend more effort, go out of their way for other employees, and speak highly of their organizations. The result? Lower turnover, better attention to detail, higher morale, and greater profits. Creating a culture where employees feel a sense of belonging with one another and to the organization at large has never been more important for leaders and managers.
Connection at school – Our education institutions are no different than workplaces. This sense of belonging is critical for student success and organization sustainability. In the late 70’s, Dr. Uri Treisman, then at UC Berkeley, questioned why his African American male students were struggling in Calculus class at higher rates than other student groups. His research uncovered one critical difference exhibited by his African American male students: they tended to study alone as opposed to working with others. When he introduced study groups for all students this gap closed. These study groups created a sense of belonging and connection to the institution that made significant difference in these students’ overall experience and academic outcomes.
Connection in the community – The implications of connection, or lack of it, reach well beyond work and school. Loneliness is found to increase chances of stroke or heart disease by 30%. On the other hand, feelings of social connection can strengthen the immune system, lengthen life, and lower rates of anxiety and depression (Harvard Business Review, 6/29/17). John Cacioppo, a social neuroscientist at the University of Chicago, defines loneliness as perceived social isolation, which is different than introversion or the state of being alone. He’s found that loneliness can predict morbidity and mortality. At the same time, deep connection, and the experience of having a true confidant, helps people thrive. Deep reciprocal relationships counter loneliness and increase the levels of cortisol and oxytocin in the brain. Perhaps even more important is that loneliness appears to be contagious, which has dangerous implications for the workplace. If one person is lonely, they are more likely to deal with others cautiously and defensively, creating potential negative social reactions and repercussions.
In this era of striving to do everything faster with greater efficiency, how can we step back and create opportunities for human connection? Here are a few questions and ideas to consider:
Remove barriers – Look to see where barriers exist at your institution. What type of open workspaces might be created? What cross-functional teams can be formed to address a problem? And how might management and leadership development programs integrate employees from all ranks? Perhaps most importantly, how can building trust be a primary goal for all? Nothing impedes connection like fear and distrust. A simple rule of thumb – criticize in private, acknowledge in public – goes along way toward building rapport that leads to authentic connection.
Create opportunities for exchanges – In the last ten years the emphasis on architectural design to promote collaboration has skyrocketed. Open work environments, shared community spaces such as kitchens and lounges, and bathroom placement along the periphery to promote people walking past one another, all drive human connection. How can you create opportunities for serendipitous encounters that drive innovation, wellbeing and connection?
Structure events – Schedule regular events for employees to engage with one another. Whether they’re lectures, Friday lunches, or an afternoon outing to the ball- park, these opportunities allow employees to connect beyond the professional setting. While it may seem like valuable work time will be lost, close work friendships boost employee satisfaction by 50%, and people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be fully engaged on the job, all which positively impact productivity and the bottom line (Gallup Report, State of the American Workplace).
Coach employees for personal development – More important than social connections are employees’ personal connections to the organization, its mission, and their own professional sense of purpose. When leaders and managers coach employees, they are able to build bonds that allow for personal development that reach well beyond traditional performance reviews. Coaching employees to cultivate their purpose within their roles, establish concrete goals, explore avenues for growth and challenge, and develop actionable plans, fosters authentic relationships that enhance connection and camaraderie, all while boosting job performance.
To learn more, contact us to explore how you can create connections at your workplace that foster engagement and wellbeing for your most valuable resource – your people!