Moving Beyond Engagement – Social Connectedness & Belonging at Work

Posted on Nov 25, 2019 by Tonya Dittman

As we continue our series on company culture and what makes a great culture great, I want to focus on the transformational power of social connection at work. I recently attended the 29th Annual Employee Wellbeing Conference for the Wellness Council of Wisconsin, where this year’s theme was “Designing Places Where People Flourish.” While there, I had the pleasure of attending a session led by Rachel Druckenmiller, a national speaker who recently launched her new firm called Unmuted. She spoke about the transformational power of social connectedness and a growing body of research that indicates social connection can help avoid and pull people out of “burnout” mode. Individuals who have deeper social connections (both in their personal and professional lives) tend to live longer, age more slowly, and have healthier lives. This is especially important in our professional lives, as we’re spending more and more time at work.

In fact, Druckenmiller mentioned a growing trend where organizations are focusing less on engagement and more on encouraging a sense of belonging at work, citing that it is the relationships and community with our colleagues that really create strong, healthy, high-performing cultures.

From a psychological standpoint, this makes sense. Human beings are hard-wired to crave connection. We want to be seen. We want to be heard and we want to matter, not just in the work we perform, but in our impact on others. And yet the pace of work and the way we do our work — especially in this age of technology — are quickly eliminating opportunities for true connection. The challenge, according to Druckenmiller, is for organizations to intentionally design processes that encourage and support human connection behaviors.

In previous blog posts, I’ve talked about the importance of your organization having a clear purpose, having clear opportunities for growth, learning, and development, and understanding how to recognize people for their contributions. Here, I’d like to focus on making the case for community — does your organization and top leadership curate a sense of belonging and connection?

The following are three simple suggestions that Druckenmiller shared to help build a sense of connection and community:

  1. Be Social – During employee check-ins, ask team members, ”What is the most important thing to you outside of work? What helps you thrive?” Also consider rethinking teambuilding events. Rather than have people focus on an activity, encourage team members to share personal elements with one another. This requires vulnerability, but that is what’s required for real connection. Talking about the weather or who is winning at the ball field isn’t going to help people feel seen and heard.
  2. Be Intentional – Encourage social interaction. Be intentional about creating conversations at the beginning of meetings, rather than looking at phones. If you have remote workers or outer offices, you’ll have to put in a bit more effort. Perhaps that means a video newsletter, so people are better informed. Consider having employees generate the content. Employee-generated content is eight times more trustworthy, and people tend to support what they create.

For new employees, how do you make sure that they feel like they truly “belong” and are joining a family during the new hire orientation process? Perhaps they receive company swag, are invited to the next social outing, or are slowly told department or company stories that make them feel they are part of the team.

  1. Be the Difference – BPM – Because People Matter! This is all about helping employees understand how they matter and articulating that to others. Some companies identify “Be the Difference” moments, where employees are asked to consider, “How can I be a contribution today?” Employees are then recognized for doing so. Storytelling is critical to this, because it is the foundation of culture.

If you’re interested in learning more about building social connectedness at work, check out Rachel Druckenmiller’s resources:

Tonya Dittman

About Tonya Dittman

Tonya has held various marketing roles during her tenure at Miron, which began in 2007. As the director of culture, Tonya is dedicated to Miron’s goal of being a great place to work for its employees. She inspires a positive work culture, identifies Miron’s ideal employee experience, measures and provides recommendations to enhance Miron’s employee experience, and leads the development of Miron’s C5 culture. As director of culture, Tonya is also responsible for enhancing The Miron Way orientation program and supporting additional culture-related Academy of Excellence learning programs as well as Miron’s Dream Project and Wellness Program. Tonya holds a degree in psychology and business from St. Norbert College. She is a LEED Green Associate and a graduate of Leadership Fox Cities. Tonya is a member of the United Way Fox Cities Campaign Volunteer Committee and the Utech Consulting Leadership Collective.

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