Four Ways to Foster Social Well-being in the Workplace

The average American spends about one-third of their life working. With in-person, hybrid, and remote options making it easier to accomplish work anywhere and anytime, the number of hours available for working can seem infinite. However, we know that it’s vitally important for a career to integrate into our lives in a healthy way that maximizes wellbeing.

Many companies offer a variety of opportunities for employees to focus on their mental, physical, and financial well-being. The pandemic has also revealed the need to shine the spotlight on social well-being too.

So, what is social wellbeing? Why should employers focus on it? How can you be proactive in building a workplace that fosters social connections?

In order to recognize the value of promoting social well-being in the workplace, it is crucial to first understand what social well-being is and how it can benefit employees.

What is social wellbeing?

Social wellbeing is about creating a sense of belonging, having personal values aligned with those around you and feeling engaged, productive, and valued – exactly what employers should be striving for in a healthy workplace.

The benefits of social well-being are numerous.

In fact, employees are more than 1.5 times more likely to stay with an employer that takes the time and makes the effort to build a supportive, social culture. Quality work relationships help build a stronger company culture, emphasize trust, and cultivate creativity, teamwork, and collaboration. These highly engaged teams create 21 percent greater profitability.

When pandemic lockdowns first began in early-2020, Americans of all ages began to experience what millions of senior citizens had been struggling with for decades – loneliness. The physical and mental health effects of isolation have been studied and show increased rates of depression, anxiety, heart disease, and high blood pressure.  Studies have also shown that social isolation can increase the risk of premature death and be as damaging to a person’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes each day.

When you think of loneliness or isolation, you may envision someone sitting in their home, alone, for days on end with little, if any, contact with others. While that can certainly be the case, social well-being is unique to each person and it’s possible to feel lonely and isolated even when you’re interacting with or physically near others.

A person with a packed calendar of events can get along great with their co-workers but still experience loneliness. Feelings of “otherness” and isolation are higher in minority or historically marginalized groups of people – such as immigrants or LGBTQ+. Even for people outside of those classifications, feelings of loneliness and isolation depend on a series of relationships with the communities around them.

Social wellbeing should be an essential part of your workplace experience, as it comes directly from relationships with colleagues and managers. It’s about a focus on personal and professional growth and feeling valued holistically as a person and an employee.

Dr. Toni Best, Co-Founder and Chief Human Performance Officer at Aduro.

Four ways to foster social well-being in your workplace

Your employees are what make your company. And each of your employees is a unique individual with a different history, personality, and daily life experience. Here are ways in which employers can cultivate social well-being in the workplace:

1. Value the intersection of identities and differences in your team members

Take the time to understand the individual needs of each employee. For instance, consider the following when prioritizing social wellbeing:

  • While one employee may crave a communal space and the traditional workday structure of an office setting, another may thrive in a remote work environment. Onsite and remote workers may have different social well-being needs and requirements.
  • While you may have a blanket mandate for diversity training, understand that this can be a source of anxiety and higher stress for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) employees.
  • Neurodivergent and introverted employees may have different comfort levels with communication and social interactions.
  • Avoid mandating social opportunities as they can cause discomfort and may also have the unintended effect of feeling forced, resulting in less authentic collaboration.

The list of “not-to-do” here can be long and feel overwhelming. The best course of action is to have managers talk to their employees and ask them about their work styles, social well-being preferences, and genuine team-building ideas. Listening to and recognizing employee voices goes a long way toward employee social wellbeing and satisfaction.

2. Celebrate milestones

Employee recognition has a positive impact on workplace morale. 92 percent of people consider recognition an important part of their happiness at work. When employees are acknowledged for their contributions, they’ll feel like a valued part of the team and become more connected to the organization’s overall mission.

Host employee appreciation events, celebrations for achieving a company-wide goal, and company anniversaries. Ask employees what personal milestones they’d like to celebrate and how they’d like to be recognized. Peer-to-peer recognition is a great way to demonstrate gratitude and appreciation, even better when that acknowledgment simply becomes part of day-to-day operations.

3. Create a community and connect with causes

Social wellbeing extends beyond direct relationships. It can also include social causes. Employees, particularly those of younger generations, say they find community in causes. Additionally, over 97 percent of employees say they would consider working with a new company based on their community engagement.

  • Provide paid time off to support your employees in volunteering for causes important to them.
  • Match employee donations as a structured way to support communities, while helping achieve your corporate social responsibility goals.
  • Offer pro bono services to non-profit organizations or volunteer team events to provide an array of options for employees to participate and find their own way to get involved.

4. Employee Resource Groups

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) help employees build social connections with those who have similar interests or shared identities. ERGs connect employees, even when they may work in jobs or departments that don’t interact or overlap in everyday work settings. ERGs are a type of smaller community within the larger company and can contribute greatly to employee social wellbeing.

In addition to increasing social connection, ERGs:

  • Improve working conditions for marginalized and remote workers
  • Open discussions for different opinions and experiences in a safe space
  • Build a new generation of leaders

Make employees feel heard and valued

A company-wide focus on social wellbeing increases reliability, support, retention, engagement, and productivity.

Creating an overall sense of community, making opportunities for employees to connect and engage with one another, celebrating contributions and accomplishments, and supporting employees in being their authentic selves help set up your organization for the evolving expectations of employees.

For more in-depth information on how your workplace can support employee social well-being, regardless of where they are working from, check out Aduro’s e-book, The Loneliness Pandemic.