As we reach two years of the pandemic, it’s important to reflect on the impacts of separation. Lockdowns and increased remote working have taken their toll and relationships have suffered. In fact, social fragmentation is taking place within communities and workplaces across the world, and so as leaders review their plans for 2022, it’s crucial that they prioritise strengthening workplace connections. Those organisations that focus on bringing their people together on an emotional level, will create healthy and resilient cultures in which great work is a natural outcome. Here’s why re-establishing workplace connections needs to be at the top of every leader’s priority list and what steps they can take to make this happen.
The impact of the pandemic on workplace connections
Social distancing and lockdowns have physically separated people from extended family, friends, workplaces and supportive communities, severely damaging the basic human need for connection. In the absence of strong connections, social fragmentation is inevitable and within organisations this leads to a poor employee experience, damaging wellbeing, engagement, productivity and overall business success.
In fact, the2022 Global Culture Report* reveals that 45 per cent of employees admit that the number of individuals they regularly interact with at work has decreased significantly over the past year, and 57 per cent say they engage in fewer social activities. In addition, one in three employees feel disconnected from their leader, furthering isolation and loneliness.
Strong connections help prevent social fragmentation, strengthening culture and ultimately improving business results. Employees who develop an above-average connection to their teammates are eight times’ more likely to produce great work and are five times’ more likely to be satisfied with their work experience and the organisational culture. Plus, employees who develop strong connections with their leaders are 11 times’ more likely to stay with their organisation for at least another year. Prioritising ways to re-establish employee connections is therefore vital.
How can leaders re-establish connections?
Leaders must focus on strengthening three types of employee connection – to teams, leaders and the organisation. Weak connections to one or more of these will damage the employee experience. So, here’s how to strengthen each of these connections.
Connecting employees to teams
Leaders must find ways to expand and deepen team ties, so providing opportunities for social connection and team building is important, especially across departments. Although it can be enjoyable to organise a get-together outside of working hours, not everyone feels comfortable and availability can be an issue, especially with working parents. This can lead to individuals feeling isolated, furthering social fragmentation. This is why any activities must be organised during normal working hours.
Focusing on peer-to-peer recognition can also significantly strengthen connections between colleagues. True social recognition occurs when employees frequently give, receive and observe recognition, and when true social recognition takes place, employees will naturally feel closer to their colleagues and more engaged with their team. So leaders must foster a culture in which employees are connected to accomplishment, celebrating each other regularly, recognising the efforts of their colleagues, and reveling together in an individual’s loyalty to their company and team.
And this must take place within an inclusive culture in which employees feel a strong sense of belonging. Everyone must be allowed to bring their true selves to work and diversity must be championed and celebrated. Inclusive cultures breed more connected teams.
Importantly, when employees get to know each other personally, they are 42 times’ more likely to feel an above-average connection to their teammates.
Connecting employees to leaders
The more time and effort leaders put into getting to know their team members as individuals, the stronger the connection.
Connections can be nurtured by holding regular one-to-ones. These allow leaders to find out how individuals are feeling, and they provide time for appreciation, mentorship, and relationship building. Even when done virtually, one-to-ones are vital and should be a regular fixture in the diary.
Once again, giving regular recognition is a ‘must’. Ongoing recognition shows that leaders value their employees’ contributions. Whether it’s recognition for extra effort or an accomplishment—or just a simple thank-you—showing appreciation builds a connection between employees and leaders at all levels.
Finally, it’s key for leaders to develop and nurture modern leadership skills. The pandemic has highlighted the need for compassionate leadership rather than leaders who lead with authority and control. Modern leaders act more like mentors than bosses. They care deeply about the growth of their people, helping individuals to feel valued and appreciated. So instead of spending time accelerating their own organisational position and stroking their ego, they advocate for their teams, helping them to develop and grow. This approach leads to significantly higher levels of connection. In fact, modern leaders are four times’ more likely to have an aspirational level of connection with their people.
Connecting employees to the organisation
Connecting employees to the company is about strengthening their ties with organisational purpose. So, have a simple and inspirational organisational purpose and link employees’ work to this purpose. This makes it clear how their work is part of the bigger picture. It’s also important to empower employees to make decisions and feel part of the organisation’s achievements.
By celebrating together, this also helps to connect employees to organisational purpose. Whether it’s a company landmark, a sales achievement or a product launch, bringing people together in celebration allows them to see how they’ve contributed to that success.
It’s important to note that employees who connect to purpose are 20 times’ more likely to have an aspirational connection to their organisation.
Connections must come first
Strengthening connections must come before anything else. After all, disconnection and social fragmentation threaten teams, culture and an organisation’s very foundation. Employees must feel connected to their teams, leader and organisational purpose in order for an organisation to thrive, and so in 2022 it must become the priority of leaders to actively create opportunities for these crucial connections to be re-established.
*Report from O.C. Tanner