Click here to read the first article in the series.

Why are simple social connections at work so important? The coffee machine conversations, smoke breaks, happy hours and shooting-the-breeze phone calls.

They’re important for many reasons, starting with the reward circuit in our brains.

Social connections at work help fulfil humans’ deeply wired need for socialisation. Historically, our hunter-gatherer ancestors required a decent number of social connections to be able to find a mate, hunt and have group protection from predators. If your social circle was too small, you were at risk. But if your social circle was too big, there would be too much competition for these resources. So, we seek out a state of balance. Scientists call this “social homeostasis”.

The social isolation caused by lockdowns and new working situations tipped our brains from the balanced state of social homeostasis into a socially starved mode. The same reward circuit that allows us to feel satisfied after eating allows us to feel satisfied when we socialise. Without social interaction, our brains activate the feeling of being starved of food. This increases release of cortisol, our primary stress hormone.

The good news is that our brains are adaptable and, with re-socialisation, we can regain the state of balance we crave. Social connections at work bring great personal benefit to individual team members.

Individuals who experience strong social connections at work have better personal outcomes. Individuals will be:

  • Happier
  • Less stressed
  • Better at emotion regulation
  • Inclined to have higher self-esteem
  • Less likely to have anxiety, depression, loneliness and suicidal thoughts
  • Less likely to have significant health issues
  • Intrinsically motivated to work from the internal natural satisfaction of connecting with their colleagues, not for external rewards

They have better relational outcomes with higher empathy and increased trust and cooperative behaviour.

And they have work-related outcomes such as:

  • Higher employee engagement, with some sources citing this as the greatest contributor to employee engagement
  • Greater job satisfaction
  • Higher organisational commitment or loyalty

Strong social connections within teams positively impact the organisation, which impacts the bottom line.

By Elizabeth Ross

Click here to read the third article in the series.

Sources:

Cherry, K. (2021). What Is the Sense of Belonging? Verywell. Retrieved from: https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-the-need-to-belong-2795393

Houston, E. (2021). The Importance of Positive Relationships in the Workplace. PositivePsychology.com. Retrieved from: https://positivepsychology.com/positive-relationships-workplace/

Kareem Clark. (2021). The Conversation. The neuroscience behind why your brain may need time to adjust to ‘un-social distancing’. Retrieved from: https://theconversation.com/the-neuroscience-behind-why-your-brain-may-need-time-to-adjust-to-un-social-distancing-162075

Kohll, A. (2018). 5 Reasons Social Connections Can Enhance Your Employee Wellness Program. Forbes. Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/alankohll/2018/01/31/5-ways-social-connections-can-enhance-your-employee-wellness-program/?sh=5e9df1d8527c

Seppala, E. (2014). Connectedness & Health: The Science of Social Connection. The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. Retrieved from: http://ccare.stanford.edu/uncategorized/connectedness-health-the-science-of-social-connection-infographic/

WillisTowersWatson. (2020). Leverage social connections to drive employee wellbeing. 2019/2020 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey Findings. Retrieved from: https://www.willistowerswatson.com/en-US/Insights/2020/02/leverage-social-connections-to-drive-employee-wellbeing

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