Have you ever felt a bit down and not in a great space, but once you caught up with some good friends and had a laugh, your whole mood changed?
Or you were feeling alone with a struggle you were experiencing, but once you heard someone reveal to you that they were experiencing a similar struggle, you felt connected on a deeper level with that person through a shared commonality?
We may come ‘together’ at work, but not in the way humans are designed to connect with one another.
For many of us, the minute we walk into our place of work, the armour goes on, we compartmentalise all the things we have going on in our lives and present the parts of ourselves that we think the world will accept (as reflected in the current state of mental health issues and the disengaged workforce).
Furthermore, many workplaces do not foster cultures of trust, compassion and care for one another, all of which are the basis for encouraging connection and real relationships.
What we unfortunately end up with are masses of unhappy human beings. The great news is, undoubtedly, workplaces are changing and the call of the human heart is wanting more from their place of work. We know it feels good to connect with other human beings and we now know it is crucial to our wellbeing and long term happiness.
Leading happiness researcher Shawn Achor states, “ Social connection and the quality of our relationships is THE biggest predictor of long term happiness”. Sadly, for a sentient species that is wired to connect, many of us are feeling disconnected, isolated and lonely.
This is primarily due to a decline in social connections from community and social networks, as well as a decline in family connections. We all want a sense of belonging, and feeling socially isolated has many negative implications that begin at an individual level, trickle through our workplace, into our families, right down to a societal level.
Feeling socially isolated at work can affect you both psychologically and physically. Feeling lonely or disconnected also takes our brain to a place where it can go into defence mode and release lots of stress hormones.
I am not sure about you, but that does not sound conducive to productivity and engagement at work. (For more on loneliness at work, you can read my blog ‘Loneliness at Work: The Silent Destructive Force’).
We connect with each other on a richer level when we get to understand that we all have the same challenges and struggles as one another. We also connect with one another when we do things outside of our normal work routine, such as team building or a fun social activity.
Connection and trust go hand in hand, and together they create understanding, compassion and kindness, as well as better relationships, improved communication and engagement. Who wouldn’t want more of that at work? If we don’t have a culture of trust then people will not feel safe enough to share and bring more of themselves to work.
In order to foster these types of connections at work we also need a culture that celebrates our individuality as well as our shared connection to one another. A culture that encourages and values:
Compassion and non-judgement
Care and kindness towards one another
Wouldn’t it be amazing to cultivate a culture where people bring more of their whole selves to work and not be constantly focussed on either ‘trying to look good’ or ‘trying not to look bad’?
Although our leaders and managers are responsible for cultivating the right culture for its employees, on an individual level, we need to be aware of how we are showing up in the way we connect with people at work.
Attachment Theory suggests that the quality and type of connections we form in personal relationships can stem from the type of attachments we formed in childhood (see my blog here on ‘Attachment Styles at Work’).
As an example, someone who is extremely reluctant to connect personally with others at work and who does not engage in team building activities may be doing so because of their ‘avoidant attachment style’.
According to Attachment Theory, ‘avoidant attachment’ types are usually very self reliant and usually downplay the importance of relationships. This could have stemmed from not getting any of their needs met from their primary caregiver as a child, so they learnt very early on to be self reliant and to shut down emotions.
This is just one example of how emotional awareness can play a big part in understanding our emotions and the emotions of others as work, and why more and more organisations are looking at emotional intelligence as a key determinant in creating a great team (but that is a big rabbit hole we can down another day!).
For now, if you are a manager or leader and are not sure how to increase connection in your workplace, the best place to start before you jump into tactics, is to take a moment to work out your intentions and ask yourself:
How do I want my people to feel at work?
What sort of culture am I trying to create?
What do I want to see more of?
What do I want to see less of at work?
Once you know what you want to create then you can make a plan to get there.
I believe that the goal of any business is to make a profit AND has a responsibility to cultivate and care for the humans within it too. Part of that care is understanding the important role that connection plays in the health of your employees and also the growth of your business!
Get in touch to start your workplace connection journey today.