Posted July 24, 2022 by Mark Perna
New research reveals that the lack of human connection is not just a remote work issue. It’s a culture problem—and it’s probably hurting your company. Mark’s article, “Employees Want More Friends At Work. Why Aren’t They Finding Them?,” published at Forbes.com on July 19, 2022.
“People are our greatest asset.”
This, or some variation of this, is at the heart of many corporate recruiting messages. What many leaders may not realize, however, is the startling truth of this statement when it comes to employee loyalty. According to a new study by BetterUp Labs, people want more friends at work and more than half (53%) would even trade some compensation for more meaningful relationships with colleagues. Forty-three percent believe their company should be doing more to promote workplace connections.
A lack of human connection can exact a high price across multiple areas: mental and physical health, job performance, stress management and of course, talent retention. Workers who reported lower levels of connection at work have a 313% stronger intention to quit, a 176% higher chance of job searching, and ultimately a 39% higher quit rate than their more connected counterparts.
But that’s just the beginning. BetterUp’s analysis found that:
Despite the burning need that many people feel for better work relationships, these connections still prove elusive. What gives?
It’s easy to blame the loneliness and disconnect that many people are experiencing on remote work. But the overnight switch to Zoom calls and working from home really just accelerated what was already happening in institutions everywhere.
Though remote work seems like the obvious culprit, the study indicates that human connection in the workplace is not dependent on being in close physical proximity with others in the office. In fact, people who returned to the office full time report lower levels of satisfaction with their work relationships than those in remote and hybrid environments.
Remote work does present hurdles to the organic water-cooler conversations we all took for granted back in the day. But these challenges can be overcome when organizations and individuals choose to be deliberate about employee connection.
Forging a human connection with the people we share our work lives with isn’t easy, but it can be done. In general, what we’re willing to put into the relationship determines what we get out of it. Effort is a major factor in workplace success, with employees who devote time to fostering work friendships reporting 41% more personal growth and 48% more professional growth.
So how can we go about making more friends at work? It’s not rocket science, but it does require some time and energy:
While the level of effort the individual worker invests in workplace friendships is up to them, the level of employee belonging falls mainly in the realm of workplace culture. Belonging—defined as an employee’s sense of being valued, feeling secure in being themselves and taking pride in their contribution to the bigger picture—is a culture thing. And it’s up to the organization to build it.
Employees who are rated themselves as low on the belonging scale reported 77% more stress, 109% more burnout, 153% more loneliness and 158% more anxiety and depression. But on the positive side, employees who felt a strong sense of belonging said they had 24% more resilience, 36% better wellbeing, 83% more personal growth and an astonishing 92% more professional growth.
A culture of belonging doesn’t happen overnight, but it can be greatly accelerated when managers take these intentional steps:
Fostering a true human connection is hard, and facilitating it for others can be even harder. We’re all busy, and the work never stops. But a connected workplace culture is worth it: on average, companies with high connection scores had 32% higher ratings than their competitors, were 14 times more likely to be named on a “best places to work” list and were 25% more likely to be recommended by current employees to their friends.
The good news for our busy schedules is that the quality of our personal interactions at work contributes far more to our friendships and sense of belonging than the quantity. The study found that that number of emails, chat conversations and meetings had no impact on how connected employees felt with one another.
To build a real human connection, we don’t have to have heart-to-hearts every day with every person on the team. But taking the opportunity to go deeper than surface level when you do interact can have an immense impact on your relational engagement with those around you.
The bottom line is that people are hungry for deeper connections with their coworkers. And while this presents organizations with a challenge, it also creates a unique opportunity to stand out in a tight labor market. If people and relationships really are your greatest asset, it will show.