Do you have friends at work?
If so, you should count yourself lucky. It’s not very common in America.
In fact, only 19 percent of people surveyed by Pew and the American Life Project said they had a meaningful work relationship.
That’s sad considering how much time we spend at work — roughly 8.5 hours on weekdays, not including commute time.
Some people spend more waking hours at work than anyplace else. So if they don’t have social ties there — and they don’t have time to connect with friends outside of work — where are they finding support?
It’s no wonder that nearly half of Americans report that they sometimes or always feel alone, according to a Cigna study.
Over time, this lack of social connection leaves a void in our lives — and even comes with surprising health implications. Social connectedness is directly tied to our ability to thrive — at work and outside of it.
Here are some of the research-based benefits of social interaction at work.
Having friends at work increases employee engagement and work quality.
When we find something inherently rewarding, like having friends at work, we’re more motivated to engage in behaviors that support those outcomes. Renowned American psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed that healthy human beings have certain basic needs, including a sense of belonging.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:
1. Physical – The need for air, water, food, rest, and health
2. Security – The need to feel safe and have shelter
3. Social – The need to be loved and belong
4. Ego – The need to feel good about yourself and be recognized by others
5. Self-actualization – The need for personal development
Interestingly enough, “social” is listed third, just after our most basic physical and security needs. That says a lot about the correlation between having our social needs met and feeling an overall sense of well-being.
Organizations also benefit from having employees who feel connected to one another.
Employees with a best friend at work were seven times more likely to be engaged in their job responsibilities, according to Gallup.
They were also better at engaging with customers, produced higher quality work, and experienced greater well-being.
Social connectedness minimizes stress and enhances physical health.
Think back to the last time you felt stressed at work. Did you talk to another coworker about it? If so, how did you feel afterward? More than likely, you felt a little better, even if it didn’t resolve the issue.
When we get knocked down in life, our support system cushions the blow. It also acts as a buffer between us and the physical effects of stress. People without strong social ties are more likely to catch colds — even though they’re likely exposed to less germs due to fewer social interactions — and have twice the risk of dying from heart disease, reported Gallup.
To improve your employees’ physical health, you have to consider how their social connections influence it — for better or worse.
One study explored how work interactions positively or negatively impacted the perceptions of well-being and health behaviors. It concluded that feelings of well-being were enhanced by work interactions where trust, collaboration, and positivity were present. When participants felt valued and respected during those social interactions, it also improved their perceived well-being. Conversely, well-being and health behaviors were negatively impacted when social interactions at work lacked a sense of trust, collaboration, positivity, value of the other person, and respect. They were also hindered when employees felt the interaction lacked justice and empathy.
What does this mean for organizations who want to improve their population health outcomes?
It’s not enough to focus solely on individual risk factors, such as reducing blood pressure or increasing physical activity. It’s also not enough to assume that someone can improve their well-being in an isolated silo. Instead, we need a more holistic approach that considers how our social environment — and the relationships within it — influence our greater well-being.
Now that you know the benefits of social interaction at work, it’s time to put it into practice. For specific strategies to implement, read this blog post on, “How to Improve Interpersonal Relationships in the Workplace.”
Discover strategies to improve the mental health of your employees in our webinar.