Fostering Social Connections in the Workplace

When we spend so many of our waking hours at work, our relationships with colleagues become a fundamental source of wellbeing in the workplace. It’s about more than just “tolerating a co-worker,” or “getting along.” Rather, it’s about fostering meaningful connections.

As blogged on previously, a social approach to mental wellness has proven the following benefits:

  • Lowered stress, blood pressure, and body mass index (Cohen, 2004; Thoits, 1995)
  • Providing a sense of meaning in our lives (Cohen, 2004: Thoits, 1995)
  • Increased personal control (Mirowsky & Ross, 2003; Thoits, 2006); and
  • Decreased levels of depression (Sheridan et al., 2015), among other benefits.

In the context of the workplace, relationships with colleagues can either positively or negatively affect an employee’s physical and mental health, productivity and engagement at work.

Employers who foster positive social connections in the workplace can help employees foster strong, cohesive relationships and help build a successful work culture. Consider the following ways in which social connections can be promoted at work:

  1. Team building activities: Enjoyable team building activities can be used to help employees unwind, take a break, and increase camaraderie. Ideas include: book clubs, an escape room, lunch/dinner outing, community & volunteer events, and office trivia/simple card & board games.
  2. Celebrations: This can include organized office events such as holiday or birthday celebrations, and employee recognition. However, celebrations can also encompass smaller social gestures such as beginning each team meeting with an exciting table topic or short personal conversation.
  3. Company-wide initiatives: Take the time to introduce employees from different departments that they may not interact with on a daily basis. You may even consider going a step further by implementing an internal social network (e.g. Slack, Chatter, Yammer) to help employees stay current on business aspects and social activities within the company.
  4. Create social spaces: Consider how your employees use the physical workspace. Allocate a “social space” for face to face interaction that does not distract other colleagues at work. You may want to consider repurposing a vacant area to create a hangout/Zen/game room. If space is an issue, set up some chairs or couches by popular spots such as the water cooler or break room.

Although all employees do not need to be “best friends,” it is evident that building social connections is important to supporting workplace wellbeing. Fostering a work culture that supports belonging and a shared purpose pays dividends in long-term company success and positive psychological outcomes.

How does your workplace foster social connections? Let us know in the comments below!

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References

Thoits, P. (1995). Stress, coping, and social support processes: Where are we? What next?” Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 35, 53–79. Retrieved from http://www.asanet.org/images/members/docs/pdf/special/jhsb/jhsb_extra_1995_Article_3_Thoits.pdf

Thoits, P. (2006). Personal agency and the stress process. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 47:309–23. doi: 10.1177/002214650604700401 

Mirowsky, J., & Ross, C. (2003). Social causes of psychological distress. (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Aldine de Gruyter.

Sheridan, A. J., Drennan, J., Coughlan, B., O’Keeffe, D., Frazer, K., Alexander, D.,… O’Callaghan, E. (2015). Improving social functioning and reducing social isolation and loneliness among people with enduring mental illness: Report of a randomized controlled trial of supported socialization. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 61(3), 241-250. doi: 10.1177/0020764014540150