Creating a Social Community At Work to Reduce Stress and Loneliness
May 3, 2023
By Aspen Christopher
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, an important commemorative event that could, sadly, go on year-round. It’s a movement to raise awareness about mental health — something that both employers and employees are, unfortunately, well aware of these days.
Mental health is a crisis that affects individuals, families, work environments, and society at large.
According to the Ipsos Global Health Service Monitor, in 2022 the pandemic was still the world’s greatest health concern (47%). But mental health wasn’t far behind at 36% — topping cancer (34%) for the first time.
Employers are obviously concerned about employees’ mental health which has marked impacts on employee engagement, productivity, absenteeism, quality and service, safety and security, turnover, and more. They want to do something about the stress and loneliness many employees are feeling, but often don’t know where to start.
We have a recommendation: focus on creating a social community at work.
Socialization at Work and Its Impact on Mental Health
Considering that most employees spend one-third of their days and about half of their waking hours at work, it’s not hard to see the positive impact of workplace relationships. As long as history can trace human existence it’s been clear how important social interactions have been to the formation of families, communities, government and the economy.
We are social beings and crave the company of others.
Forbes Business Council member Scott Ford, builds a case for why leaders should focus on encouraging workplace socialization. He says: “From my perspective, allowing staff time to chat with one another and/or organizing opportunities for after-hour connections can result in a happier, more collaborative team.” These interactions, he says, “can benefit employees’ well-being and sense of purpose.”
Here are some ways that you can help to promote socialization at work to positively impact workplace culture and employee well-being in meaningful ways.
Encourage Work Friendships
Do you have someone you can call a good friend at work? Gallup research indicates that people who can answer “yes,” are more productive and more engaged in their work than their colleagues without such close friendships in the workplace. In fact, it’s one of the questions in Gallup’s well-known Q12 assessment used to measure employee engagement.
Researchers Robert Waldinger, MD, and Marc Schulz, PhD, have conducted research for Harvard, indicating that “positive relationships are what keep people happy throughout their lives.”
These relationships serve to create a strong workplace culture where employees feel they are valued and supported by others who care about them.
Create Opportunities for Connection
Rather than taking a “nose to the grindstone” approach in the workplace, employers can help to encourage this kind of supportive company culture by creating opportunities for employee connections. Harvard research has found that creating even small opportunities for these types of connections can help minimize feelings of loneliness.
There are many ways to do this, from themed lunches, to book clubs, company sports teams, and Employee Resources Groups (ERGs) that can help employees learn more about each other and find others they share backgrounds and interests with.
Even something as simple as taking time at the beginning of a meeting for a little social chit-chat can be restorative. Non-work-related conversations are as critical to team building and creating a supportive culture as business discussions.
Form Cross-Functional Teams
Harvard’s research has also found that when jobs require little human interaction and limited opportunities for employees to build relationships with others, employees tend to be miserable. Help bring employees together by creating cross-functional teams where even the most isolated employees will have an opportunity to interact.
It’s a win-win. Employees will gain the socialization opportunities they need and build supportive relationships and your company will benefit from the diverse input, fresh insights, and innovation of a broad cross-section of your workforce.
There are ample opportunities for celebration in any workplace. Unfortunately, these opportunities are often overlooked or missed in the constant quest to do more, more, more and to pursue the next big opportunity.
Taking time to make time to commemorate employee milestones, accomplishments, and team successes amplifies your commitment to them while providing opportunities for positive interactions. Celebrations are contagious and team-supportive.
Spreading the love outside of individual teams to involve others across the organization can extend the reach — sharing successes and having fun, organization-wide. An employee engagement tool like Connects can help do that in meaningful, impactful ways.
These shared celebratory experiences are both meaningful and memorable. The more people that take part, the more inclusive your culture will be. After all, everyone in your organization is working together to achieve mutual goals. Why shouldn’t everyone in your organization be included when those goals, and other personal achievements, are met?
Support Positive Meaningful Interaction
Loneliness doesn’t just affect people who spend time, or work, alone. Even people with very busy, very social jobs and many interactions can experience loneliness. In fact, social jobs can be particularly stressful for some people who may feel isolated when they don’t have positive, meaningful interactions with others.
You can demonstrate culture is important and help to create a culture of gratitude in your organization by providing opportunities for, and supporting, positive meaningful interactions. How to do that? There are a variety of ways, including:
- Frequent employee recognition, as we’ve already discussed. “I’ve been recognized too often,” said no one, ever.
- Leading by example — when you have positive interactions, people will notice and mimic what they see you doing.
- Encourage employees to pay it forward by expressing gratitude to each other often.
- Cast a wide net — showing gratitude doesn’t only have to be for the “big wins” — show employees little things matter too.
- Proactively create “wow” moments that everyone can enjoy; again, make time for celebration!
And, finally, provide an employee engagement platform to make it easy for all employees, no matter where they sit, to connect with and celebrate each other.
Feeling stressed and feeling disconnected from others at work is a health concern, especially as we get older. Studies have shown that as we age, loneliness and the lack of socialization can increase the risk of death as much as smoking, obesity, and being physically inactive.
Stress has also been linked to higher accident and injury rates — and higher turnover, which can increase administrative costs and cut into the bottom-line profits.
It’s not just physical wellness we’re concerned about, of course — stress and loneliness also impact mental health, leading to anxiety, burnout, depression, and more. All of this, though, can be prevented by engaging employees through inclusion, socialization, and a proactive focus on creating a supportive culture.
Commit to promoting socialization to help employees fight loneliness, neutralize stress, and build a sense of community at work. Employees will feel better and perform better. So will your organization.