According to the Pew Research Center, 65% of workers say they feel less connected to their coworkers in the wake of the pandemic. And research by Cigna revealed that when employees feel disconnected, there is a higher risk of turnover, increased absences, loss of productivity, and a lowered quality of work. In fact, employee disconnection is costing U.S. companies as much as $406 billion a year! So how can leaders help build connections in the workplace and create a sense of belonging for their employees?
Make Mental Health a Top Priority
Young employees feel disconnected at work and home, and according to LinkedIn, 66% of Gen Z employees want a company culture built on mental health and wellness. Likewise, Millennials have been pushing for better mental health benefits since joining the workforce. Supporting mental health at work can take many forms. It could be providing competitive pay and benefits such as expanded family leave policies and employee resources groups. However, it can also mean taking meaningful action to address employee burnout by implementing meeting-free days, do not disturb hours, and encouraging everyone to use their vacation days.
Make Workplace Connection a Habit
Many employees feel disconnected because of the shift to remote and hybrid work. Workplace connections made by the water cooler or at an impromptu lunch with a colleague don’t happen as frequently or easily on remote or mixed teams. It is up to leaders to create new opportunities for connection. Consider implementing an ongoing ritual that brings everyone together. For example, a weekly stand-up meeting where employees can quickly share something they are grateful for. Or asking a different employee each week to share a short presentation about something interesting they learned recently. You can also encourage peer-to-peer connection by offering incentives like a gift card to a restaurant if you invite a colleague from another department out to lunch. The most important element is that these opportunities happen regularly. Friendship doesn’t just happen overnight. A sense of belonging is accomplished through consistent connections that take place over time
Bring Back the Telephone
Younger workers might roll their eyes at this suggestion, but it might be time to return the old-fashioned phone call. While text and chat are great tools for quick communications— research shows that overdependence on asynchronous messaging makes us feel more disconnected. You might also think that video chat has replaced the need for phone calls. However, psychologists have found that people are better at interpreting another person’s emotional reactions over the phone than on video. Telephone calls also allow us to communicate without being tethered to a desk or worrying about our appearance. In a study about connecting through technology, Professor Natalie Pennington and her colleagues found, “for combating loneliness, the effect of voice calls was really close to face-to-face. Voice calls actually alleviated stress even more than face-to-face communication.” So next time you want to connect with a colleague or employee, consider closing your laptop and picking up the phone to say hello.