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The Value of Social Connections in the Workplace

August 3, 2021 / Employee Experience

Written By: Jordan Dunne

Are your employees offered opportunities to genuinely connect and socialize with their workplace peers?  

Pre-pandemic, many employers would have confidently answered, “Yes!” But COVID-19 restrictions and workplace closures have resulted in more than just a physical separation of your teams. After more than 16 months, Zoom happy hours have lost their appeal, and many peer-to-peer interactions are now limited to work-related discussions. 

Social connections are critical to physical and mental wellbeing. One in three employees reports that they feel less connected to their peers at work than before the pandemic. That’s concerning from both an individual and business perspective, especially with the new COVID-19 variants threatening to delay return-to-workplace plans. 

The isolation many employees are enduring due to social distancing and remote work can take a toll on your corporate culture and productivity. Here’s how: 

Social Connections Drive Productivity and Engagement 

Employee stress and burnout are significant concerns for employers today. Even before the pandemic, the annual cost of workplace stress from absenteeism and declining performance at work was estimated to be $500 billion. Even more daunting, 2 in 3 workers in the U.S. are disengaged at work and lack a strong sense of wellbeing.  

You might be wondering how this all relates to social connections at work. Forming social bonds with one’s coworkers fosters a culture of inclusivity, which is crucial to enabling employees to bring their best selves to work each day. Let’s look at the facts: 

  • More than 3 in 5 employees with high social connectivity report being highly engaged, whereas just over 1 in 10 employees with low social connectivity consider themselves highly engaged at work.
  • Employees who have strong social bonds with their coworkers are more motivated to perform. 
  • Individuals who report having a best friend at work are 7x more likely to exhibit better engagement, customer relations, work quality, and wellbeing, as well as a lower risk of injury. 

Workplace Friendships Can Positively Impact Health Outcomes 

We’ve said it before: healthy employees are happy employees.  And the gift keeps on giving because (no surprise here) happier employees are more likely to be physically and mentally healthy.  

Having a robust social network is associated with a reduced risk of depression and anxiety, lower levels of stress, increased motivation to engage in self-care, and longer life. Conversely, studies have noted “Low social interaction was reported to be similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day and to being an alcoholic, to be more harmful than not exercising, and to be twice as harmful as obesity.” 

Unfortunately, loneliness was on the rise pre-COVID, and it’s reasonable to assume that the social isolation many have experienced during the pandemic will worsen the issue. A 2019 research study from Cigna found that more than three in five Americans classify themselves as lonely—and it’s directly impacting your business outcomes. Employees who are lonely are twice as likely to miss work due to illness and 5x more likely to miss work due to stress. Lonely workers also consider quitting their job twice as often as employees with strong social networks, leading to issues with retention and turnover. 

It’s clear that socialization, mental health, and physical health are interconnected. Individuals who self-report fair or poor overall health also show more signs of loneliness than their healthier counterparts. Additionally, a lack of social connection increases stress and depression, which can cause physiological changes that are markers and predictors of disease. All this is to say that lonely employees are at a higher risk of struggling with both their mental and physical wellbeing, which worsens over time. 

Strong Teams Are the Foundation of a Strong Company Culture 

Remember what we said about building a culture of inclusivity? Inclusive workplace culture can help build stronger teams, boost collaboration, and enhance creativity, which fuels innovation across the organization. When your people feel a sense of belonging at work, they’re empowered to show up ready to perform each day. Employees who experience a bond with their coworkers also feel connected to the larger organization, enabling your organization to attract and retain top talent. 

As organizations adapt to the post-pandemic world of work, a greater emphasis is being put on employee resilience. More than 4 in 5 employers believe that employee resilience will be critical to recovering their business in the wake of COVID-19—and they’re not wrong. Compared to the national average, resilient employees are 96% more productive, 91% more engaged at work, and 19% less stressed. These crucial employee characteristics are vital to recovering and improving business outcomes. 

Whether your workforce is remote, hybrid, or are onsite full-time, creating opportunities for socialization will help your people show up each day happier, healthier, and more engaged and connected with your organizational culture. From encouraging lunch breaks and afternoon chats to reminding employees to utilize social boards in their digital wellbeing platform to kicking off a virtual healthy habits challenge to boost camaraderie, it can all be done through your Homebase for Health®. Request a demo today. 

About The Author

Jordan Dunne is a copywriter and editor on the marketing team at Virgin Pulse, focusing on social strategy and health and wellbeing content. Outside of work, you can find her at the gym, hosting trivia, taking photos of food, or snuggling up on the couch with her dogs.

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