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Engagement: Social Connection & Belonging

Now, more than ever, there is a need to focus on the transformational power of social connection. In 2019, I attended the 29th Annual Employee Wellbeing Conference for the Wellness Council of Wisconsin. The conference theme was “Designing Places Where People Flourish.” While there, I had the pleasure of attending a session led by Rachel Druckenmiller, a national speaker who recently launched her new firm called Unmuted. She spoke about the transformational power of social connectedness and a growing body of research that indicates social connection can help avoid and pull people out of “burnout.” Individuals who have deeper social connections (both in their personal and professional lives) tend to live longer, age more slowly, and have healthier lives. This is especially important in our professional lives, as we’re spending more and more time at work.


Fast forward to 2020. The need for genuine, authentic connection has never been higher, not just to combat burnout but to ensure we care for, protect and build the wellbeing and resiliency of the people in our care. There is no question that physical distancing, financial and health stresses and the increasingly blurred lines between work, home and school have indeed created burnout and mental health challenges. The question is, how do we fulfill this need for authentic connection in the new world we find ourselves in?


The following are three simple suggestions that Druckenmiller shared to help build a sense of connection and community. She shared this one year ago. However, I believe each of them is just as applicable today, if not more so, in the current virtual world we find ourselves in:

  1. Be Social – During employee check-ins, ask team members,” What is the most important thing to you outside of work? What helps you thrive?” Also, consider rethinking teambuilding events. Rather than have people focus on an activity, encourage team members to share personal elements with one another. This requires vulnerability, but that is what’s required for real connection. Talking about the weather or who is winning at the ball field isn’t enough to help people feel seen and heard.
  2. Be Intentional – Encourage social interaction. Be intentional about creating conversations at the beginning of meetings, rather than looking at phones. If like most people, you have remote workers, you’ll have to put in a bit more effort and get creative with this. Perhaps that means a video newsletter, so people are better informed. Consider having employees generate the content. Interesting fact: Employee-generated content is eight times more trustworthy, and people tend to support what they create. For new employees, how do you make sure that they feel like they genuinely “belong” and are joining a family during the new hire orientation process, especially a virtual one? Perhaps they receive company swag, are invited to the next online or in-person social outing or are slowly told department or company stories that make them feel they are part of the team. Storytelling is powerful. Use it!
  3. Be the Difference – Because People Matter! This is all about helping employees understand how they matter, both inside and outside of work, and articulating that to others. Some companies identify “Be the Difference” moments, where employees are asked to consider, “How can I be a contribution today?” Employees are then recognized for doing so, whether that’s a work-related project or ways they’re contributing or giving back to their community. For instance, our team at Performa is doing a Step Challenge that encourages people to move and raises funds for a local charity. Again, storytelling that reinforces how people are making a difference, that they matter and they are a team connected to purpose, is critical to this.


Druckenmiller mentioned a growing trend where organizations are focusing less on engagement and encouraging a sense of belonging at work, citing that it is the relationships and community with our colleagues that create strong, healthy, high-performing cultures. Human beings are hard-wired to crave connection. We want to be seen. We want to be heard and we want to matter, not just in the work we perform, but in our impact on others. And yet the pace of work and the way we do our work — especially in this age of technology — are quickly eliminating opportunities for genuine connection. The challenge, according to Druckenmiller, is for organizations to intentionally design processes that encourage human connection and align people’s gifts to their organization’s purpose.

If you’re interested in learning more about building social connectedness at work, check out Rachel Druckenmiller’s resources:

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