As a child growing up in a small rural community in Iowa, church was far more than a place of worship.
At the time, I couldn’t fathom why people put themselves through such a tedious hour sitting on hard benches. But, I suspected most people suffered through the service for what happened afterward.
Once the service ended, children retreated to Sunday school while the adults gathered around baskets of cookies and coffee cups. A buzz of conversation and laughter filled the room as they caught up on the happenings of the past week.
But, church wasn’t just confined to Sundays. It seemed like once a week we were headed to church for a potluck, pancake feed or (on occasion) a pig roast. When we weren’t eating together, my parents were attending men’s and women’s “fellowship” groups. Even the kids had youth group activities throughout the week.
Church, for my family, was almost like belonging to a social club. It provided us with a real sense of connection and support within our community.
But, things are changing.
Fewer and fewer people are attending church regularly. Compound that with the dramatic decline of membership in other membership-based social, service, and fraternal organizations. This seems to be symptomatic of a larger trend that we are becoming less connected with other people.
Why is this happening? Is our need for human connection diminishing?
Research suggests exactly the opposite. Our need for true human connection and socialization is as powerful as ever. In fact, some argue that “social connections are as important to our survival and flourishing as the need for food, safety, and shelter.” Social connection (or lack thereof) has been shown to have significant impact on our health, longevity, and our experience of anxiety and depression.
While churches and other organizations have declined as social connecting points, another type of institution has increased in its importance.
With the rise of technology and smart devices, work has continued to expand in terms of the amount of time and influence it has on the day-to-day lives of people. Many people spend more time at or with work than any other activity in their lives; some even more than sleeping.
If we are to find the social connectedness that we need as humans to be happy and healthy, it may have to happen at work. Some smart leaders are recognizing this as an opportunity to attract and retain talent.
In fact, tending to the social connectedness of your employees can be a powerful way to create a workplace culture where employees want to work and can do their best. Gallup’s research on employee engagement over the past several decades shows that having a “best friend at work” is vital to an overall positive experience of work.
My work with Best Places to Work organizations provides further reinforcement. Employees at these organizations often speak of how much they love the people they work with—often going so far as to refer to them as “family.” And, upon further inspection of these organizations, you learn that this connection between employees hasn’t happened by accident; fostering relationships is part of how they do things. Below are examples of what that looks like.
● They regularly make time for employees to be together NOT working. This may range from organizing potluck lunches to out-of-office events or trips. The purpose being simply for employees to have time to get to know each other and build relationships.
● They involve employees in the hiring process. This creates an opportunity for employees to have a voice in choosing who gets invited to be part of their team. This process allows employees to begin the relationship-building process even before a new employee is hired.
● They use technology to connect employees together. Particularly when employees are distributed and work remotely, these organizations use chat and video platforms to create as many pathways for connection as possible. But, they also realize that technology is not a substitute for face-to-face interaction.
● They make socialization part of the onboarding process. Perhaps the most intimidating part of starting a new job is entering a new environment where you know no one. The best organizations make the socialization of new employees a formal part of the onboarding process. This might include putting donuts on the new employee’s desk to draw employees over to say hi, or scheduling lunch meetings for the new hire every day for their first two weeks.
The workplace has become far more than just the place we go to do work. In a world of increasing technological connectivity but social isolation, work is becoming our social hub. It may be the only place we go to commune with others and make new friends. The organizations that recognize and embrace this new role of the workplace will be positioned to thrive in the future.
About the author: Jason Lauritsen a keynote speaker, author and consultant. He is an employee engagement and workplace culture expert who will challenge you to think differently. Jason is co-author of the book, Social Gravity: Harnessing the Natural Laws of Relationships. Connect with Jason at www.JasonLauritsen.com.