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The Importance of Social Connections in the Workplace

Human beings are, by nature, social creatures. We rely on interactions with others to fulfill our need for connection and belonging. Given that we spend up to a third of our lives at work, a lack of social connections there can negatively affect employee well-being and workplace culture—and impact the bottom line. This week’s blog explores the importance of social connections in the workplace and offers suggestions for how you can begin to create a more connected environment.

The importance of social connections in the workplace

Loneliness, isolation and alienation are on the rise. U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, has characterized loneliness as an epidemic and released an advisory on the issue because of the importance of social connections for individual and societal health and well-being.

The problem of loneliness is also spilling over into the workplace. Even before the pandemic, Cigna conducted a study on loneliness and found that 1 in 3 people reported feeling a general sense of emptiness (35%) or disconnection from others (37%) when they are at work; 39% felt the need to hide their true self when at work.

The data is alarming because of the impact it has on not only individuals, but the organization as a whole. Workplaces with a strong culture of connection and belonging generally see greater engagement, productivity and worker well-being.

How social connections change the workplace dynamic

The pandemic proved that many types of work can be done remotely, and scores of organizations continue to offer fully remote or hybrid work arrangements to employees. And while the lack of a commute has given workers more time in the day and more flexibility, it has come at a cost: many say bonds between co-workers have weakened and the quality of relationships at work has suffered. Not surprisingly, lonely employees are more likely to be disengaged and feel burned out. They are not as motivated to be productive and go the extra mile.

The impact of social relationships in the workplace

Relationships are critical to our sense of connection and belonging at work and are one of the foundational elements of a successful organization.

  • The Gallup Organization routinely measures the impact of social relationships in the workplace via its “best friend at work” proxy. Gallup maintains that having a best friend at work is strongly linked to employee engagement and job success. Employees who have a best friend at work are significantly more likely to engage customers and internal partners, get more done in less time, innovate and share ideas, and have fun at work.1
  • A Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) report, Loneliness and the Power of Casual Collisions, found that compared to onsite and hybrid workers, remote employees report they less often consider their co-workers to be friends. And, according to SHRM, when workplace loneliness becomes chronic, it diminishes performance and commitment.
  • A 2023 Workplace Romance & Relationships Survey conducted by SHRM found that organizations that encourage friendships may have a competitive edge: increased retention rates. The study also found that workers with close friends at work are more likely to say they feel a strong sense of belonging at work (80%) and report more satisfaction with work (86%).

The connection between social interaction and employee well-being

Dr. Murthy has written extensively about the impacts of a lack of social connection on our health and well-being. He points to numerous adverse physical outcomes like a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, and premature death. One of his most eye-opening and oft-cited remarks is that a lack of social connection can increase our risk for premature death as much as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.

There are also mental health implications of poor social connections. Studies conducted by Stanford University found that people who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. There is also evidence that these people 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.” As the article states, “social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.”2

All of this reinforces the notion that employees who are more socially connected not only reap the benefits of this increased connection themselves, but employers also enjoy the benefits of a healthier, more collaborative and engaged workforce.

Creating a healthy organizational culture

There are numerous ways to create a more connected work environment. From engaging leadership to being intentional about bringing employees together in a meaningful way, you can create an environment where employees feel they matter to one another and the organization.

The role of leaders in fostering meaningful connections

Leaders play a critical role in increasing social connections among employees. It is their task to make social connection a strategic priority from the top down. Modeling pro-social behaviors themselves, promoting stress awareness, openly communicating, and sponsoring and participating in activities that foster social connections, can help leaders create a culture of meaningful connection.

Strategies for promoting social engagement

  • Schedule days/times when everyone is required to be in the office to allow for more collaboration and connection. Ensure that there are opportunities for meaningful engagement by scheduling team-building activities on those days.
  • Create effective communication with hybrid and remote workers. Use technology like Slack, Microsoft Teams and other tools to provide a platform for people to easily connect.
  • Educate employees about the importance of social connection for workplace well-being, health, productivity, performance and retention. Allowing people to bring their authentic selves to work is also critical.
  • Encourage activities that allow people to connect with one another as whole people, not just in terms of the role they play at work. These could include coffee meet-ups, after-work events, or volunteering activities.
  • Increase representation from cross-functional areas on projects to broaden employees’ exposure to co-workers beyond their teams.
  • Don’t neglect mentorship. Pairing colleagues with those who have more experience is a great way to foster connection and help workers increase their network of co-workers and friends.
  • Allow employees to maintain connections outside of work by respecting boundaries between work and non-work time, honoring caregiving responsibilities, and supporting hobbies.

Benefits of social connections among employees

There are many benefits of increasing social connections among employees.

  • Productivity: Employees who feel connected to their colleagues are more likely to work well together and be productive.
  • Turnover: Connected employees are more loyal and less likely to quit, helping the employer avoid high employee turnover costs.
  • Engagement: When employees are connected, they’re more likely to be satisfied with their jobs.
  • Well-being: Positive social connections can improve employee health and well-being, guard against workplace stress and anxiety, and reduce absenteeism and presenteeism. Happier and healthier employees are also less likely to incur high medical insurance costs.

Alleviate the mental health consequences of social disconnection

Having strong social connections in the workplace can help improve mental health by alleviating stress and loneliness. When employees have colleagues they can confide in and lean on in difficult times it can be easier to navigate the ups and downs of work. Social connections can also foster a greater sense of purpose, which is one of the common causes of burnout. There’s even evidence that increased levels of social interaction can reduce inflammation, which has been linked to depression.

Increase job satisfaction and employee morale

Having positive social connections at work can result in increased job satisfaction. Employees who feel valued and connected to their peers are also more likely to enjoy their work, be more productive and remain engaged. This can lead to greater employee retention, which translates to real savings for employers.

Create synergy between workers

Increased social connections at work don’t just benefit employee health and well-being. They can also have a direct impact on the quality and timeliness of work. Teams with a high level of connection generate more innovative ideas and have better problem-solving skills. They thrive on the open exchange of ideas that increased social connection can unleash. When teams trust one another, there’s a greater sense of psychological safety and willingness to take risks.

Curious about more ways to improve social connections?

It’s been said that the quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives. Our degree of social connection both inside and outside of work can have a profound effect on our physical and emotional well-being. Because we spend so much time at work, it’s important for employers to focus on what they can do to enhance connections among colleagues in order to improve workplace culture and reap the benefits of a happier, healthier and more engaged workforce. If you want more ideas for how to improve social connections at work, check out our free tip sheet below.


Two employees making social connections at work

6 Tips for Boosting Social Connections at Work

Get practical tips for helping facilitate and nurture connections among co-workers to create a more supportive workplace with this tip sheet.


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