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What’s causing a serious breakdown in employee connectivity?

Erin Eatough, Manager of Behavioral Science and Lead Researcher - BetterUp Labs

UK employees with a lower sense of belonging have an 80 per cent stronger intention to quit their jobs than those who feel comfortable at work, according to research by BetterUp Labs1, which  is BetterUp’s behavioural research lab that brings together business, academia, and science to conduct validated and peer-reviewed studies.

These findings come as UK workplaces are struggling with new trends such as ‘quiet quitting’, whereby employees are setting boundaries when it comes to working late and working on projects that aren’t in their job description, as well as issues around recruitment and talent retention.

Over half (51 per cent) of the UK workforce don’t feel a sense of belonging in the workplace and want more connection than they currently get at work. One third of European workers believe that their employer must play a central role in facilitating this connection.

Employees who feel socially isolated or lonely feel less attached to their work, and their sense of belonging and dedication to the organisation suffers, especially when it comes to talent retention.

Almost half (49 per cent) of UK workers use social connection as a filter when job searching, however almost a quarter (24 per cent) say they don’t have even one friend at work.

This is having a real effect on British workers, with those who suffer from low belonging reporting 20 per cent more burnout, 19 per cent more team conflict, 14 per cent more stress and 13 per cent poorer work-life balance.

This feeling of isolation is ultimately impacting organisations negatively, as over three-quarters (76 per cent) of employees who have less friends at work will be job searching outside of the organisation. Losing valuable employees during the best economic times is costly, but there is a compounding, negative ripple effect for losing your remaining top performers in a downturn.

When it comes to attracting new talent, BetterUp research found that organisations that are highly connected experience 32 per cent higher ratings on Glassdoor and are 25 per cent more likely to be recommended by an employee to their friends.

The benefit for companies is huge. Teams with more socially connected workplaces are 52 per cent more able to generate new and useful solutions when faced with challenges, 38 per cent more likely to take calculated risks and 17 per cent less likely to experience conflict.

Research has also shown that managers have the most significant influence over the employee experience, their resilience and sense of belonging. When managers champion connection, their direct reports do, too. Direct reports put in 35% more effort to build connections with others and 14% more effort to make others feel valued and seen.

Organisations as varied as Chevron, Google, and Hilton have implemented peer-based Coaching Circles™ to create meaningful shared experiences that do double duty fostering connection while developing key skills that strengthen performance. Meeting for a weekly session across 6-8 weeks, managers engage with a small set of global peers around important, weighty topics.

Erin Eatough at BetterUp Labs says, “Whilst technology has come a long way in keeping people connected during Covid and hybrid working, employees are missing human connection and it is impacting workers’ abilities to thrive within their teams. Humans crave social interaction and with huge amounts of time spent at work, it’s natural and important to develop strong connections and friendships amongst colleagues to build resilience and thrive.”

“During times of uncertainty, organisations must change and flex with the market and simultaneously, employees need to do the same. Connection to peers helps prevent feelings of isolation, burnout, fear, and chaos during times of uncertainty. Investing in employees’ social connection will increase agility, resilience, and overall well-being needed to help them overcome unforeseen shifts and challenges, leading to a healthier organisation as a whole.”

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