How well do you know your employees? Do they feel a sense of belonging at your organization, and do they get along well with their coworkers? These are vital questions to answer as a team leader, especially if you want to get the best work out of your team.
It’s been proven time and time again that the highest performing employees have a strong sense of belonging at their organization, and they enjoy positive emotional connections with their coworkers. A long-term study (11+ years) mentioned in the book Corporate Culture and Performance discovered that strong company cultures that value employee connections generate 4x more revenue than those with substandard company cultures.
Additionally, employees also need to feel connected to and appreciated by their managers. According to 89% of HR professionals, providing ongoing feedback and clear expectations to employees are both optimal for improving employee engagement.
In short, fostering positive connections between yourself, your employees, and your teams will benefit your organization in numerous ways — including better performance, increased revenue, and improved retention rates.
But how can you encourage employee connection, especially in the age of remote & hybrid work?
There are plenty of ways to do so, many of which we’ll explore in this article, so stay tuned to learn more.
Why does employee connection matter?
Ensuring your team has meaningful connections goes far beyond ensuring their well-being. In fact, connected and engaged employees will yield many benefits to your organization.
Connected employees are more passionate about the work they do than disconnected and disengaged team members. They’re also far more likely to stay with your company if they feel an emotional connection to your company and team members.
Here’s a look at the top reasons why employee connection is so crucial for any successful business.
Connected employees are productive and profitable
Research has proven that engaged employees consistently outperform their disengaged peers. It makes sense if you think about it.
If you’re in a position where you feel connected to your coworkers and feel heard and appreciated by management, it almost goes without saying that you’ll put in more effort.
If you’re seeing waning levels of productivity and engagement, it could be a sign that you need to form stronger connections with your employees. Not only that, but companies with highly engaged workforces are 21% more profitable than ones with low levels of engagement.
Retain Your Top Performers
If your employees don’t feel a sense of connection to your organization or your team, it won’t take long before they begin to pursue other job opportunities.bCurrently, 50% of US workers want to make a career change.
Why is that?
A majority of respondents reported issues with their employer as the primary reason why they want out (toxic management, a lack of engagement, poor opportunities for advancement, etc.). That means employee retention is more challenging than it has been for a long time.
The good news?
Research also shows that employees are 90% less likely to leave a job if they’re highly engaged and connected. So if you provide continuous and meaningful feedback, encourage connections with coworkers, and truly listen to your employees — they’re far less likely to take a look at the job market.
Tips to improve employee connection
Now that you know how beneficial connections are for your employee’s productivity and wellness, it’s time to learn how to better connect with them.
While the previous set of tips focused on remote/hybrid workers, the following tips are universal and can apply to any type of workplace environment.
Frequently interact with employees
If you want to connect with your employees, then you can’t hide out in your office all day. Instead, you should interact with your team as frequently as possible.
If your schedule is incredibly busy, then you might need to develop a strategic plan for interacting with your team, but it’ll be well worth it. Whenever you see an employee, ask some friendly questions before talking about work-related tasks.
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, as you can ask simple questions like, “How are things? What are you excited about? How’s your new baby doing? Do you have any ideas for the business?” That’ll show your employees that you truly care about who they are as people, which will help you form meaningful, long-lasting connections at work.
However, you need to truly listen to your employee’s replies; otherwise, it’ll become obvious that you’re asking questions just to ask and not to get to know them.
Practice active listening
Speaking of listening, developing active listening skills is one of the best things you can do as a manager or team leader. All too often, we half-heartedly listen to what someone is saying as we focus on what we’re going to say next. However, that’s not true listening, and it can cause your employees to feel that you don’t truly hear them when they speak.
Active listening involves attentively listening to an employee and then responding/reflecting on what they said to ensure you truly understand that. Lastly, active listening means that you retain the information for later use.
So if an employee tells you about a new baby they had last week, you should reflect and respond to it by giving your genuine congratulations and then retain it so that you don’t forget about their new child later on.
Help employees achieve their goals
Another way to forge employee connections at work is to help them achieve their goals. In an ideal world, your employees would share your organization’s goal to grow and dominate its industry. However, that’s often not the case, as your employees will have goals, desires, and aspirations of their own.
The good news is you can both benefit by helping one another. If you focus on helping your employees acquire new skills, develop their careers, and pursue their dreams, they’ll work twice as hard for you.
Also, providing desirable benefits like extensive healthcare coverage and wellness packages will boost employee performance – as 89% of employees that have health and wellness programs are engaged, connected, and happy with their jobs.
How has remote work affected employee connection?
While the pandemic kicked off the remote work revolution, its impact hasn’t been entirely positive. For one, working remotely is very isolating and can lead to increased feelings of loneliness and depression. This lack of emotional connection can negatively affect an employee’s performance and morale, which may seem surprising.
After all, doesn’t everyone dream of working from home, tucked away from the pressures and frustrations of the office?
While working from home certainly has its benefits (it wouldn’t have stuck around so long if not), there are some noticeable downsides to remote/hybrid working, and the lack of employee connection is a big one. The latest research has found that 86% of full-time remote workers experience burnout, and 48% feel as if they have no emotional support from their employers.
With remote workers spending the majority of their time either working alone or talking to coworkers via Zoom calls (which can never replace face-to-face communication), it only makes sense that they’d feel a lack of connection with their employer. After all, video meetings tend to be very impersonal, with some employees not even uttering a word during conferences.
Research has even shown that approximately half of all remote workers remain completely silent during video calls — meaning they barely count as a form of socialization for most employees.
It’s clear that most hybrid and remote workers crave emotional connections with their coworkers and employers, which they need to maintain their mental health and well-being.
How can you connect with remote workers?
Just because an employee works from home doesn’t mean you can’t form a meaningful connection with them. Not only that, but you can also make a positive difference by finding ways to encourage emotional connections between your remote workers — which will lead to tighter teamwork.
Here are some ways to improve your employee experience for remote and hybrid teams.
Virtual coffee breaks
A big part of forming employee connections is getting to know your staff on a personal level. That can be a tad difficult if your workforce is either entirely remote or out of the office sometimes. Virtual coffee breaks are an excellent way to add some much-needed socialization to your remote teams.
You can have a set time for your virtual coffee break, or you can decide on a different time each day together as a team (i.e., which time works best for everyone’s schedule). Encourage your team to join you for a hot cup of coffee or another beverage of their choosing. The only rule is that you can’t talk about anything related to work.
Instead, chat about movies, family, upcoming birthdays, current events, and other fun things. That’ll help you get to know your team, and your team will get to know one another – which is what you want to build meaningful employee connections.
Eating lunch together
Much like taking virtual coffee breaks, you can also connect with your employees during lunchtime. Instead of everyone going their separate ways during their lunch breaks, your entire remote team can eat together as a bonding exercise. Or you can gamify it and draw names from a hat each week to see who has to sit down to a virtual lunch together.
Either way, eating and conversing are great ways to build bonds with your remote workers.
Start a company challenge
A fun way to empower employees and encourage interaction with their peers is to start company challenges. These can range from Lego-building challenges to workplace initiatives like who can sell more products during the quarter. These friendly types of competition can foster meaningful relationships among your employees.
Wrapping up: Fostering employee connections
While the advent of remote work has largely split up the office, employees still have a genuine need for connection and human engagement. Even if you still work in an office, your employee connections may be lacking.
The more you can connect with and relate to your team on a personal level, the more connected they’ll feel to you and your organization.