Why is the workplace lacking connection? Putting the human back in HR


Deep down we know it, we are all a bit less connected in workplace (hey, maybe we weren’t really connected in the first place) but we certainly can agree we aren’t getting more connected?!

A study by Cigna of 20,00 American workers highlights the cost of reduced connection, 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.

Most of us know that life in organisations can feel far from the ‘spontaneous looking selfies’, the ‘fun videos’ and the ‘PMA posts on Linked-in’. We can see the politics, the top-down approaches, the fear there can be of not agreeing or fitting in, indeed a recent study found that the one of top issues for executives is loneliness and isolation.


So what’s happening, why are we feeling less connected and what can we do about it?

Do we even want to be more connected at work?

You don’t need to be an organisational psychologist, human resources or performance specialist to figure out a couple of things. For some reason we have allowed ourselves to get busy being busy, we have prioritised the process over people, we have spread ourselves so thin we don’t’ listen, ask questions well and our curiosity has dipped sharply. We have somewhere along the track got so distracted by the ‘shiny’ that we have lost some of our purpose as humans and its culminating in a lack of human connection. We have forgotten that the elements that drive innovation, creativity, entrepreneurialism, real competitive advantage and genuine interaction with customers are those unique to us as humans.

Que our knee jerk reaction to blame technology and social media for the changes in terms of how we connect, but the truth be told it is how we as humans interact with technology that’s the problem. Beyond that it is how we have chosen to structure companies/teams, the culture we build and the behaviours we choose daily that either drive or destroy connection.

I would bet each of us could easily write a list 10 times longer than this page of all the things that reduce connection. So that’s the good news - we already know them! The real question now is, what are we doing about them or are we that bothered ?

I am guessing if you are reading this you’re interested. So let’s get to the positives. What are some simple ideas, that would cost nothing to implement, you could use to drive human connection today.

Could we incorporate any of the following into how we work ?

  • Find time in a week/day to do activities together that are not work. That could be something as simple as eating breakfast or lunch with each other or even better with a different person or group, going for a walk, doing some charity work, cleaning the office … get creative!

  • Let’s talk about technology and how each of us let it interfere with our connection with others. What would it say if we chose to not bring our phone into a meeting (even if it’s on the table/upside-down, it still sends a message as to how important the person with you is), could we close the laptop as we speak to a person and really listen. The odd time could we have a walking meeting and not bring technology with us ? Imagine the message it would send if you had your next 1:1 just walking, talking, listening to each other, and the upside of getting moving, releasing the good hormones and getting the blood circulating!

  • Think about the simple, almost old fashioned things like shaking hands or say hello when you meet a person in the corridor. Making a pleasant comment when you get into an elevator or just smile at someone in the hallway.

  • We know we have to be conscious and in the moment to drive connection. So could we be more conscious to ask questions before we speak or wait to give our position in a meeting until others have spoken. Plan and build into our team meetings or interactions time to find out a bit about the person you are with – it could be something as simple as ‘one question’ for each of the participants or something more elaborate as a ‘me box’. Remember relationships are built in the moments ‘in-between’ meetings.

  • People by and large mirror the behaviours they see around them. So allow yourself to be vulnerable, share something you are anxious about, something you don’t know how to do, something you failed at. If we want human connection, we have to be human. There is nothing more difficult to connect with than someone that appears to have it all together and figured out.

  • Connection and credibility are strongly linked. Don’t make promises that you can’t keep or pretend things are fine if they aren’t. People can smell BS a mile away, so keep it real. And if you can’t share something, then explain that it is confidential and you can’t.

  • Have tough conversations with empathy. You will note, I am not saying just ‘have tough conversations’ or just ‘have empathy’ … the marriage of both is where the good stuff comes from. True connection and meaningful relationships are built through challenging times, respect and communication. After 20 years in HR, I can say I have just about seen it all from a people perspective. But there is a re-ocurring theme that pretty much always presents in the difficult situations – that is things have ‘run on’ and no one has had a truly honest conversation(s). So why do we avoid the difficult conversations, and suddenly we are at warnings, disciplinary meetings or terminations .. because we are the sum total of what we do daily both employers and managers. There is no legal reason to not give someone feedback – NONE. The issues arise when we start to attach outcomes to conversations. I am not saying there should not be outcomes, of course there should be. But in so many situations, there are a dozen moments before the outcome for real listening, engaging and feedback. This stuff really is simple, but hard to do when we do not create a way of working whereby we give and receive feedback openly and often.

  • Take time to share context to what is happening and why. Leave room for challenge, debate and feedback and [here’s the hardest part] if there is a legitimate concern or indeed a better way to solve the problem – use it, or raise it up to someone that can affect it. Too often as leaders we are busy ‘selling’ a top down vision of what has to happen. The Royal Marines believe in a philosophy of the commander sets the intent/end state but they then steps back and lets their subordinates decide on the ‘how’. Deep down we know, you can’t solve a problem unless you ‘own’ a problem. While at times we may not be able to set the absolute direction, we can always empower our teams to solve them in the most effective way possible.

  • Leverage wellbeing, community spirit or charity to drive a greater connection? Wellbeing is area that close to everyone has an interest in. Could you or someone in your team lead an activity, class or wellbeing idea? Could you or your team do something positive for your community or a charity. Give people opportunities to do things they are passionate about and interested in is a wonderful way for us to appreciate each other in ways we may not have before, to see each other in a different light and with more depth.

We are super interested to hear how you got on with any of these ideas, I am pretty sure you may have far better ideas … let's get sharing them! Please leave your ideas in the comments section below.


Michelle Fogarty

COO @ PepTalk

Let's make work better …

At PepTalk, engagement is at the heart of all our wellbeing platform. Out platform is about energy, passion and fun while being grounded in key business outcomes. To find out more about this area and our wider PepTalk offering book a demonstration at www.peptalk.ie or email james@peptalk.ie

Shout out to the super talented James Curran for his epic giphs

#EmployeeEngagement #ROI #EmployeeMorale #HintsTips #culture #Wellbeing #Connection #HRStrategy #LackofConnection

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