Only 5% of workers strongly agree that their organization helps them build stronger personal relationships, according to a Gallup study.

While employee wellness programs have targeted a wide range of health issues in the workplace, from fitness to culture-building activities, perhaps often overlooked is the idea that employees need to feel connected to their co-workers. With only a small amount of employees feeling their companies do enough to build stronger interpersonal relationships, this may not be a gap that is being addressed.

According to a Gallup study, only 2 in 10 employees in the United States feel they have a “best friend” at work. This “best friend” can mean the difference between staying or leaving an organization when all else fails. If the ratio were to increase to 6 in 10 employees having a best friend, organizations would see a 7% higher engagement and 12% increase in profits. That’s a 50% increase in employee satisfaction and people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be fully engaged in their work.  

It’s not only that the social engagement could lead to positive outcomes in a variety of business metrics, but it’s also what employees want. A PGI study found that 71% of millennials want to build closer relationships at work. Social connectivity is also what we need. As outrageous as it may seem, a Gallup study showed that we need 6 hours of social time in order to thrive. At first glance, six hours of social time may seem like a waste in working time. But what if we consider that more social time may increase the level of productivity in the working hours, and actually empower employees to better perform.

On a more basic level, social connectivity is what we as humans need. The busier we get, the less time we have for establishing and maintaining meaningful relationships. It seems as if we’re constantly putting our professional priorities over our friends, and slowly retreating in isolation. Even our communications within work are becoming more and more dominated by emails, slacks, and other forms of online messaging – hindering the very substantial face-to-face communications that can fuel our need for connection.

Common knowledge tells us we are social animals, but we are more and more going against our nature in potentially damaging ways. Loneliness could be the next big public health issue, along with obesity and substance abuse. A study has shown that the probability of dying early is 20% higher for obese people, 30% higher for excessive drinkers, 50% higher for smokers, but 70% higher for people with poor social relationships.

Perhaps it’s time for a new model: one where we think about fostering social connection amongst employees in a healthy, productive, and holistic way. While we may have come up with more efficient ways to communicate, our disconnection at times seems even greater. A more genuine way of forming meaningful relationships at work will likely ultimately lead to not only more fulfilled employees, but also a better performing organization.

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