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22 May 2019

The key steps employers should take to encourage social interaction at work

A holistic wellbeing strategy includes more than just the three pillars of physical, mental and financial wellbeing. The fourth pillar that holds it up is social wellbeing. It's just as important, yet often overlooked.

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What is social wellbeing?
Social wellbeing is all about feeling connected and included. It’s a sense of belonging and it means establishing strong relationships that will help you thrive. Humans are social creatures; we don’t just want social interaction, we need it to be healthy. Indeed, Maslow puts belonging and love, just above safety, food, water, and warmth in the Hierarchy of Needs.

What does this have to do with work?
Well, when we spend almost 40 hours, on average, per week at work1, it’s vital that we feel this kind of connection and support. Research has shown that 42 per cent of UK workers did not count a colleague as a close friend2. Imagine going to work and having no one you feel you can talk to. It probably feels lonely and isolated. And when it comes to work, you would likely be withdrawn and disengaged.

How to improve social wellbeing
Social wellbeing is clearly linked to mental health, employee engagement, and productivity. And while admittedly, social connections have to form organically, there are ways that businesses can encourage people to come together at work, and nurture social interaction.

Firstly, it’s important to allow time for socialising. Work isn’t a social event, but make it okay for employees to have moments of chat and discussion during the day. Allow them time to catch up after the weekend, or talk about their personal lives. This allows employees get to know each other and build relationships.

This might seems a bit old-hat, but setting up social interest clubs, or encouraging employees to do so, can work well. After all, nothing helps people bond better than mutual interests. Whether it’s books, running, crafts or learning a language, regular get-togethers with a common purpose will help people connect.

There are a number of general wellbeing activities that can bring people together too. For Mental Health Awareness Week this year, Simplyhealth organised a series of lunchtime walks and bike rides to boost physical activity and mental wellbeing, but also to inspire people to come together for some social time outside the office.

The importance of face-to-face contact
Advances in technology allow us to be more connected than ever before. But the downsides of technology can massively impact on our sense of social wellbeing. We’re all guilty of being pre-occupied with our smartphones, sadly sometimes to the detriment of ‘real’ social interaction.

The more we rely on technology for communication, the more isolated we will become. And while technology does have huge potential for improving how we communicate, employers should never underestimate the value of good, old-fashioned communication methods. For example, rather than rely on phones, IM, or email, you could encourage employees to go and visit colleagues in person, on other floors, in different buildings or locations.

Social wellbeing for remote workers
Remote or lone workers pose a particular challenge when it comes to social wellbeing. They are removed from company culture and can go a long time without speaking to anyone, which can have negative impacts on the social (and mental) aspects of their wellbeing.

Employers must take steps to support remote workers, making sure to keep in regular contact. Help them feel included by arranging team meetings with video calling and ensuring they are invited to work activities and social events.

Focusing on social wellbeing is important for all businesses, to be able foster a healthier and more inclusive culture. Employees are a key driver behind improving social wellbeing, so provide them with opportunities to be social, and you’ll be on your way to a much happier, more fulfilled and engaged workforce.

This article is provided by Simplyhealth. 

If you'd like to hear a lot more on the topic of employee wellbeing, and also specifically from Simplyhealth, then sign up for Employee Wellbeing Congress on 20 June in London, where they'll be exhibiting.

References 

1. Average actual weekly hours of work for full-time workers, Office of National Statistics, May 2019 

2. 'Do we really need friends at work?', Tom Ritchie, Changeboard, 3 September 2018 

 

 

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