I can’t imagine working in an environment where I don’t have human connections with people. Thirteen years as a SEAL taught me a lot, such as the importance of body armor not to mention a properly packed parachute, but more than anything, it taught me the value of belonging to something greater than myself.
With the majority of our day spent at work, the cost of not having human connections with those around us poses significant threats to personal health and organizational performance. Did you know the mortality impact of loneliness is the same as smoking 15 cigarettes a day? Loneliness increases the risk for cardiovascular disease, depression and anxiety. When we’re lonely we’re less engaged, less productive and less creative.
A study by Cigna of 20,000 Americans highlights the cost of loneliness, and with a 15% average engagement score of employees worldwide, ignoring the human need of belonging poses serious business risks. For example, Gallup research shows that only two out of 10 U.S. employees strongly agree to having a best friend at work, but, if that ratio increased to six in 10, organizations could realize 36% fewer safety incidents, 7% more engaged customers and 12% higher profit. Bottom line: when there’s belonging there’s engagement, and when there’s engagement there’s productivity.
Don’t let the (lack of) belonging bug bite you. The loneliest leaders, at least in my experience as a leadership coach, are those who ignore their own potential; they ignore their own impact. Waiting for others to take action is a great way to tell yourself, “I’m not important,” which is complete BS. While you won’t be able to turn the culture around single-handily, you can certainly create a team of like-minded (i.e. connected) people to get the ball rolling.
If a lack of belonging plagues your workplace, start with these three strategies and stop letting the disconnection cost you:
Conduct a belonging audit for human conections
A strong culture is one where there’s trust, human connection and belonging, among more. Without trust, you don’t connect with colleagues and without connection, it’s only a matter of time before any sense of belonging to that employer dissipates and you start looking for a job elsewhere—likely with a competitor.
One of the best ways to gauge whether there’s connection or not is to look at your meetings. Do the right conversations take place during those meetings, or, do people wait for the meeting after the meeting so they can get “real work” done? If it’s the latter, then you might want to consider strategies for building trust.
Leave work at work
There’s nothing worse than being hit up on a Saturday for an office fire that “can’t wait.” The thing is, when you answer that (work) call you miss out on family time which means you also lose valuable opportunities for personal human connection, creating even more frustration.
Do this: create and enforce a social norm that says weekends are off-limits for work. Period. No exceptions. If there’s one exception, there’ll be two exceptions, so either create the norm or don’t. Somebody will always be asking for “just one more thing.”
Lead by example
One of my favorite quotes about culture is from Larry Bossidy who said, “The behavior of a business’s leaders is, ultimately, the behavior of the organization. As such, it’s the foundation of the culture.” Remember that leadership isn’t about position, tenure or rank. It’s about the willingness to exercise value. If you want to create more human connections and more belonging in your culture, lead the conversation. State any observations you see during the meeting, such as, “I’m noticing that we’re not as far along in the agenda as we intended. What do we need to do differently to be as productive as we want to be?” The power of this question is twofold in that it creates situational awareness and sets the stage for more candor.
If business is about growing relationships, then human connection is at the root.