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Seven tips for using social connections to support employee wellbeing

Throughout the pandemic, companies have been doing their absolute best to replace ‘water cooler’ moments with virtual social connections. But have you ever wondered why these moments are so important? The key is to consider employee wellbeing.

Is it because they help us to keep up with the latest gossip and have a laugh? or is there more to them? Well, research has shown that social connections improve physical health and psychological wellbeing, which means that they’re right up there with eating your veggies, working out, and getting a proper night’s sleep.

Dr. Emma Seppala, Science Director, Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, said: “People who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression, have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them. In other words, social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.”

And on the flip side, one study showed that a lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure.

So how do you improve employee wellbeing with social connections and benefit from these positive impacts? Here are seven tops tips, in addition to some examples from my own conversations with companies that I conducted when researching and writing my recent eBook.

Tip 1 – Start with why employee engagement matters

The first question you should ask yourself before rolling out any program is ‘why?’ – why do businesses and employees want and need these connections? Is it to achieve a business objective? is it to improve cooperation between team members? Or is it just to have a bit of fun? If you start by answering this question, you’ll have a better chance of having the social connections tick the box, and achieve your objectives.

Tip 2 – Have something for everyone

The next thing to consider is your audience. Often, we create these programs to meet the needs of one group or the employees that shout the loudest. And while we certainly want to meet their needs, it’s important to hear all voices and design programs around the diverse needs of our entire workforce. For example, consider those that may not be comfortable with certain activities or competitions, and find ways where they do feel comfortable, and can therefore reap the benefits of social connections.

Tip 3 – Consider different types of connections

Besides organizing different activities, it’s just as important to consider the different types of connections. For example, what can you do to support connections at a 1:1 level, team level, group level or company-wide level? Each of these are required for different reasons and should be considered as you’re developing your connection programs.

For example, one company I interviewed is randomly linking people up to have 1:1 meetings via Slack. This not only creates connections that help employee wellbeing, but gives employees the opportunity to meet and create relationships with people they may not have known in the past.

Tip 4 – Don’t do it alone

Over the years I’ve learned that some of ‘my’ best ideas are those that have come from others, which means that when it comes to innovating, I leverage the combined creativity of my entire organization. Whether it’s bringing in a committee to help you, or conducting pulse surveys to ask your entire workforce for input, if you bring your employees into the process, the results will be much better.

And it’s not just the ideas that should be leveraged from others, but running the social connection programs themselves. Many companies I’ve spoken to use their employees, and their many talents and passions, to lead some of their events.

For example, one company I interviewed told me about a ‘cleaning hour challenge’ that was organized and run by some of their employees who were obsessed with cleaning. Each week they shared cleaning tips and ran a challenge to get everyone involved.

Another example is a company that ran a ‘how to have a holiday at home’ webinar series, helping their employees make the most of staycations. Ideas were presented by different employees, ranging from having a camping holiday in your garden to a virtual safari tour.

Tip 5 – Trial and error

Another thing I’ve learned over the years is the power of trial and error, especially when it comes to things like social connections. For example, one company I interviewed told me that at the start of the pandemic they sent every employee a jump rope, with the idea that they would do virtual jump rope sessions. However, when they discovered that the idea fell a little flat, they quickly scrapped it and moved onto something else.

So, don’t get too precious about programs. If they work, continue them, and if they don’t, move (or jump) on!

Tip 6 – Involve families in employee wellbeing

During lockdown, many companies have invited family members into social connections for the first time. This has been beneficial in that it helps meet social connection needs, encourages employees to participate when they may not have done so otherwise, and even improves employee engagement as family members are seeing the benefits of the employee working at the company.

For example, one company ran an initiative called ‘Pinot and Picasso’, where employees and family members came together for Pinot (wine) and Picasso (painting lessons). Another company held a coloring competition for the children of their employees, asking them to create a poster about the topic of washing your hands that would be hung up in the office toilets.

Tip 7 – Involve managers in employee wellbeing

Last, and certainly not least, is to stress the importance of managers when it comes to social connections. The more they can get involved with the connection activities, role modeling it to others, the better chance you have of your workforce engaging.

Whether it’s leading an activity or merely being a participant, encourage them to have an active role in activities as well as 1:1 social connections with their team. And if they don’t believe it’s important, share with them the benefits I listed at the start of this blog.

I hope these tips help you as you continue to develop and roll out social connection programs at your company. And don’t forget, they’re just as important as eating your veggies, so get out there and do it!

This blog was originally posted on HRD Connect.


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