How close are you to your co-workers? A key study by Relate revealed that only 75% of employees say they have good relationships at work. And new research suggests that one in ten have no friends at all in the office. The impact that disconnection has on our performance and well-being is pervasive.
This lack of connection is no doubt due in part to the decrease in face-to-face interactions in the workplace. Some experts are even calling it a ‘global epidemic’.
We’re driving home our need to invest in ourselves this month. And one of the ways we can improve our wellbeing the most is by enjoying meaningful connection with others. In fact, it’s a non-negotiable.
Recreating connection at work
Since we spend so much of our lives at work, our quality of life is largely determined by our job. And not just the actual activity of the job itself, whether that be writing newspaper articles, buying and selling shares, or designing buildings.
Even if we like the tasks assigned to us, if it does not in some way connect us to other people, we will not achieve our most meaningful work.
In Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in an Age of Isolation, Dan Schwabel argues that, “A strong connection to your teammates makes work more meaningful and enjoyable. The lack of it makes work feel like a chore and creates the silos that eliminate creativity and innovation.”
He adds, “Workplace happiness depends largely on a sense of belonging, so find small ways to increase the amount of two-way, real-time interaction in your working week.”
Shwabel suggests actions that we can take immediately, from grabbing a coffee with a co-worker to scheduling a regular one-on-one with your manager or, if your boss has an open-door policy, making use of it.
Even something as simple as walking over to ask a colleague a question rather than sending an email can create a micro moment of connection - plus you eliminate the risk of them misreading your written tone of voice.
Body language and facial expressions are a big part of how we connect with other people so if you can’t physically be in the same space as someone, choose video conferencing over other forms of communication. A smile can go a really long way in building relationships.
Where work and social collide
Some workplaces have a strong social cultures, others don’t. While we need to be careful to put the right boundaries in place - getting drunk in front of the boss might not be the best career move - there is a degree to which socialising as a team can bring us closer.
Shared experience away from the office is a powerful bonding experience. That’s why team building exercises are popular. But it needn’t be that formal.
Consider starting a weekly lunch club, organising regular cinema trips, golf days or whatever else your team might enjoy. Just remember to be as inclusive as possible. For example, don’t arrange every social at 6pm when mums and dads may well be needed at home.
Social activities shouldn’t be forced either. This is about facilitating relationships rather than insisting on them. But there are business benefits, if you need an argument for getting some budget behind your team socialising - teams achieve far more when they know and trust one another.
Beyond the workplace
But work isn’t the only place connection is important, something all successful business people will tell you. In a commencement speech, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner spoke about how his connection outside work is vital to his well being.
“It’s taken me a long time to realize what makes me happy,” he said. “Simply put, it’s looking forward to going to work in the morning, and looking forward to coming home at night. The only way I can do this is by practising compassion in both facets of my life, and not taking anything or anyone for granted.”
Connection beyond the workplace often starts with intentionally disconnecting from work. It means simple things like putting the phone down. It means stepping away from screen-time and sharing face-to-face moments.
If we have young kids, it means making time for bedtime stories, being a human climbing frame and building dens. It’s about creating moments where fun and laughter can happen of their own accord.
If we’re in a relationship, it means sitting down for dinner at a table, listening intentionally so that we tune into how our partner is feeling. When we pay attention to what lights them up and what’s weighing on them, we can respond meaningfully.
They may not need an answer, just someone to comfort them. They almost certainly do not want to hear a related anecdote, they might just want you to laugh with them at the absurdity of their day.
Sometimes it will feel like hard work, other times like light relief. But one thing is certain. When we create time for connection, we’ll feel the benefit in every area of our lives.
Even with strangers
We can find connection anywhere. A conversation with a stranger is how every friendship begins after all.
Often we miss these opportunities because we’re busy listening to the voice in our head. Sara Lazar, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School says, “It’s always there and comfortable… We all have that voice. The problem is that voice is a distraction and drowns out everything else.”
Even small moments of conversation can take us out of ourselves and into connection. Steve Calechman of Harvard Medical School recommends that we connect with people in simple gestures. It can be a minute as exchanging our nods for verbal ‘thank you’s when stepping off the bus, or when someone who holds open a door for us.
Calechman also advocates picking up a thread of conversation when someone greets us, dialling down our passing remarks and instead asking real questions that lead to real conversations.
People can create moments of meaningful connections at work, at home and anywhere the population is larger than one. You can be an instigator of connection and your own personal fulfilment.
As a starting point, set yourself a task to make three new connections this week. Write down your challenge so that it feels tangible, and maybe even share it with a trusted friend for accountability.
And if you’re looking for more help getting started or overcoming personal communication struggles, check out our Effective Communication course. Empower yourself to connect anywhere, with anyone. You never know where a conversation might lead.
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