Fostering Connection in the Workplace

Anthony Santa Maria

Anthony Santa Maria

Research shows that the strength of co-workers’ connections in the workplace plays a key role in determining levels of team engagement and performance. Directly correlating to higher performance, collaboration, levels of innovative thinking, good working relationships are one of most important factors that contribute to job satisfaction.

The long periods of physical isolation people went through during the pandemic heightened the value of this link. 

In a recent webinar “Fostering Connection in the New World of Work,” Praxis Labs Curriculum Lead Dr. Olivia Holmes explains the link between feelings of belonging and performance in the workplace. She references American psychologist Abraham Maslow’s renowned theory of human motivation, often referred to as the Hierarchy of Needs, which proposes that in order to achieve self-actualization, people need to first have their “base needs” met. In addition to physical well-being and safety, this includes feelings of love and belonging.

How companies can support greater connection in the workplace

And despite companies’ best efforts to preserve a culture of belonging since the pandemic, 60% of employees report feeling less connected to their coworkers in the past year. And more than half of employees who left their jobs in the last year said they lacked a sense of belonging. This build-up of disengagement and employee turnover results in trillions of dollars lost globally per year. 

To remedy this, companies like Meta, Amazon, and Starbucks are calling for employees to return to work fully in person, assuming a lack of face-to-face interaction is to blame for decreased engagement. But this doesn’t have to be the answer, especially for employees who prefer the flexibility that remote or hybrid work offers. 

Dr. Holmes suggests that all companies, whether remote, hybrid, or in-person, can foster greater connection and belonging.

“The advancement of technology has made this possible, literally shortening the distance between people,” she says. Noting how the internet has been proven to make expressing one’s “true self” easier, she cites frequent contact and mutual disclosure as key to building and maintaining strong co-working relationships.

Regardless of whether your employees are working on-site or remotely, there are a number of proven ways to foster social connection in the workplace.

1. Make sure you are meeting your team’s physiological and safety needs

Employees who don’t feel their basic needs are being met will disengage, no matter how many team-building activities you schedule. When benefits like mental health apps and fitness stipends are connected to a wellness strategy that supports employee safety and well-being, companies can see improvements in connection, belonging, and engagement. 

2. Get people together, whether remote or in person 

Whether it’s just once or twice a year, provide opportunities for employees to get together in-person at a team or functional level. Throughout the year, plan activities that promote team-building, vulnerability, and ways to set inclusive team norms and ways of working.

3. Be able to articulate and share group goals, norms, values, roles and responsibilities

One of the biggest culprits of employee burnout and disengagement is not being able to connect one’s scope of work to the company’s larger mission, vision, and goals. Rallying employees around a shared purpose can help new and existing employees establish closer bonds and team cohesion that promotes better collaboration and innovation.

4. Start at the top 

When leaders communicate transparently through turbulent times, it helps build trust that informs employee’s perceptions of leadership and company culture. When people feel anxious about economic headwinds, they are more likely to seek jobs elsewhere. This can be a challenge, especially at a time when businesses are trying to tighten their recruiting costs and focus on upskilling and reskilling existing employees in critical areas. 

5. Leverage emerging tech to build human skills 

Advances in learning technology that helps people build skills like empathy, connection, and interpersonal communication, can help move the needle on business metrics like equity, manager effectiveness, and productivity. 

Working better together 

A robust workplace social life positively correlates strongly with fulfillment, pride, and meaning. When you invest in equitable access to networking and create opportunities for informal contact and collaboration, stronger and more meaningful employee relationships will follow.

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