What is YOUR Workplace’s Social Health?

Have you ever found yourself excited to go to work (or virtually join a meeting) because of a person whom you’ve developed a friendship with? There are so many anecdotal stories around that single friendship at work that keep people going and feeling “without him, I don’t know if I could do this work”. In some cases, and if you are fortunate, that can be a team too: one you feel deeply connected with and that you look forward to having lunch with. A group of people with who you share your latest life challenges and triumphs.

It is this meaningful connection that gets to the core of Social Health in the workplace.

For this article, we will define Social Health in the workplace as a depth of connection and frequency of interaction that provides a sense of community, support, and belonging.

 Creating connections with those you work with, see every day and share space with (in large corporate settings or in a solo-preneur co-working space) is a beautiful opportunity for fulfilling one of our most basic human needs, connection, the main ingredient to Social Health.

If we can agree that this feeling of connection is important in any setting, let alone at work where we spend most of our waking hours, then how do we foster it?

One Friendship at a Time

Friendship is a lost art. One that we many time take for granted in our personal life or don’t prioritize because we are “so busy’. But friendship skills can be cultivated and happens when we share time, consistently, and share our selves. Something it has a huge payoff in the workplace.

Approaching this challenge is both a bottom-up and top-down effort: From the top, we need to look at how we create time, space and opportunity for our fellow team members to find that intimate connection. Let us not confuse this with alcohol-soaked “team-building” excursions or creating “High Performers” club inside the organization.

Think more about a “buddy system”: an internal set of onboarding exercises to help someone find that person they click with. One idea to set the example would be: “No lunch alone or with Device.” Here we encourage and reward those who find time to connect with others over lunch.

From the bottom up, we as individuals, regardless of title, need to make the effort to connect. So much can be learned by finding regular connection time with folks. It’s a bit tough because we have been wired to think thru the lens of productivity. It should be ok to say  “I need a bit of a break. Let me take 5 minutes and have a cup of coffee with someone.” Personally, I find myself seeking “connection moments” as a major win for my day. It can be in the elevator ride, passing by in the hallway, or from an email requesting a “ conversation” to talk through the details and nuance of a project.

Safe Space for Sharing

When we work toward creating more connection opportunities, we must start to think about the Culture of how we share at work. So many workplaces are fraught with gossip, one-up-manship and “get to the point” energy that even when we do connect, it stays so surface level that we actually don’t get much out of that time together. We need a safe space for sharing.

One such space is what some call a circle: a small group of people (5 on average) who create a space to allow a judgment-free, “what’s said here stays here” kind of space. Some create it cross departments as its easier to do it with colleagues you don’t have daily interactions with. This usually happens once a week or once a month. Such circles often can start as book clubs, meditation groups, passion projects or social good endeavors that the workplace fosters or one individual starts up.

The other important aspect of creating safe spaces to share is leadership participation: when leaders share, openly and vulnerably, and act in a way that shows this is an acceptable way to show up every day, it shows all of us that it is indeed a safe space. Unfortunately, just words and emails about such from HR won’t create a feeling of safety.

Authenticity of Connection

Personally, this was one of my biggest blind spots and challenges: finding authenticity in my daily communications as a founder and CEO was not easy. Mostly because I was always playing the role of CEO and not being my plain old, sometimes silly, often forgetful, kind self. So, I’d give the old pat on the back or off-color joke (another blind spot) thinking I am connecting. But all I was really doing was perpetuating distance, trying to connect with someone while pretending to be something else and projecting an image. So being comfortable in my own skin while performing my duties was (and still is) key to getting authentic: less energy is expended in “acting” like a CEO and more support and loyalty is offered without asking.

So many say “I was being authentic with him/her in sharing how I felt,”  yet when we confuse sharing our feelings with being authentic (NOTE: we are not our feelings, we are only processing our own challenges, insecurities, and growth) we create a toxic place of dumping our emotions on others. Rather, if we can spend the time to examine those feelings and share “why it’s so hard” versus “it is so hard” then we create authenticity.

For example:

Carol, you really are frustrating me when you send group emails that make me look like I am not pulling my weight. Why in god’s name are you doing that to me?!”

versus

Carol, I wanted to better understand some of the recent emails sent. I am trying to figure out why getting those emails makes me so angry and part of that process is understanding your intentions behind that so I don’t get so angry in the future.”

Some would say to enter a dialogue with open-mindedness (regardless of how sure you are they are trying to hurt you) and be curious about the possibilities.

What’s Wrong with Current Solutions

Much of what creates this-connection is the stress and anxiety in the workplace put on us: an environment that rewards emails at all hours, productivity over connectivity and one that endlessly asks us to produce to prove our worth. Imagine if your family or partner asked of you every day to be in relationship?

We need new priorities: A set of values and clear rewards for intentionally living up to those values, instead of just meeting deadlines and numbers.

Workplace culture has become a booming industry with technology, tools, assessments and entire internal departments dedicated to making such a “better” or “more productive” place to work. Yet, with all these resources, it can feel like not much has improved in the long run. All the new wellness offerings, mindfulness trainings, and team-building exercises are not showing improvements in long-term sustainable health, only lulling us to think we are doing the right thing.

We all seek a place of feeling connected and supported in meaningful relationships with others. A place where you derive a health identity for who you are, NOT what or how much you produce. An environment that celebrates your role as a contributing member, NOT the hierarchy or accomplishments in climbing the promotional ladder. A place where one feels supported emotionally, mentally and even spiritually.