“One of the best things about working for StoneAge is my relationships with co-workers. I love the people I work with! I learned something new about one of my teammates the other day, and everything clicked. Now I understand why she gets defensive when I ask her questions about her ideas. I was only curious about her thought process, but she told me about a past experience that, when triggered, causes her to get defensive when asked questions. Learning this was helpful; now, I know how to reframe my questions, so we have a productive conversation. I feel way more connected to her now.”
This recent conversation with one of my employees warmed my heart. In fact, I couldn’t have been happier. If there is one thing I want to create at StoneAge, it’s deeper personal and professional connections at all levels of the organization.
Why do I care so much about workplace connection? Because I want the work experience at my company to enrich people’s lives, and having healthy relationships does just that. I also want my employees to want to work here — attracting, retaining and developing talent is what will make or break companies now and in the future. The Great Resignation is showing us this. Across the country, people are leaving their jobs in droves, because they feel disconnected from their bosses, teammates and companies. Many workers are lonely, and when underpaid and overworked, they say, “Enough is enough.” At my company, we know the secret is connection. The connection between employees and management. The connection between each other as peers and human beings.
Our employees aren’t the only ones saying workplace connections matter. The Institute of Leadership and Management published a report stating that 77% of survey respondents said that close relationships with colleagues were the most critical factors when determining job satisfaction. But not many employees have these deep connections. According to the Gallup Organization, a global analytics and advice firm, only 30% of employees have a best friend at work. Employees with a best friend at work are more likely to engage customers, produce better work, have higher well-being and are less likely to get injured. In fact, according to Gallup, employees who have a best friend at work are seven times more engaged.
So, how do you go about building strong workplace connections? Here are five things you can start doing now:
1. Make connecting a priority
Start every meeting off with a check-in. We state how we are feeling and why, and it’s wonderful how this helps foster connection and empathy. Additionally, at the beginning of our monthly company meetings, employees meet in virtual breakout rooms to share personal stories, give an update,and express gratitude to people on their team. These small opportunities go a long way toward creating better workplace relationships and deeper connections. In fact, when we surveyed our employees about what helped them feel more connected at work, they resoundingly said the breakout sessions at monthly company meetings were powerful ways to get to know each other.
2. Encourage storytelling
In my experience, sharing stories with vulnerability and openness sparks curiosity, helps people understand each other and makes people feel like they belong. During my weekly team meetings, we take turns telling a personal story. It’s incredible what we learn about each other, and the newfound insight helps us work through conflict and issues. For example, one of my direct reports shared a story about how hard his dad was on him growing up. The damage from the relationship caused him to question his value to our team, and he never felt like he measured up. This vulnerability helped us understand why he was so hard on himself, and we found ways to help him move through his self-doubt faster. None of that would have been possible if he hadn’t shared this deeply personal story.
3. Give all new employees a culture buddy
According to research by O.C. Tanner Institute, 69% of employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experience great onboarding. A good onboarding process involves helping new employees feel connected to their peers and supervisors. Still, it’s hard for new employees to feel connected, especially in a remote or hybrid work environment. To help with this, assign new employees a culture buddy with whom they can connect every day to ask questions about where to go for information and how to navigate the culture. We’ve found this very engaging for both the new hire and the more established culture buddy.
4. Create more dialogue
Most people crave more interaction with leadership, so create opportunities to have more dialogue with your employees. The best way to foster a connection is to have a conversation. Pick up the phone to see how someone is doing. Go for a walk with a colleague. I call at least five employees every week to see how they are doing and foster a connection, and I am always surprised by what I learn. My employees tell me how much they appreciate these check-ins and how they help them feel like they belong on the team. It’s not easy to scale, but I believe that building connections isn’t about scale; it’s about depth.
5. Rally around teamwork
To foster connection across the broader organization, you must codify what it means to be part of the team. At my company, we rally around a “One Team” mentality, which helps people understand that we are all in this together and must work as one united, company-wide team rather than a set of individual teams. We celebrate “One Team” efforts and showcase how almost everything we do requires all of us, not just an individual or a single team. “One Team” encourages collaboration and teamwork, fosters inclusivity and connection, keeps people focused on the collective good and helps everyone consider that their decisions impact everyone throughout the organization.
Helping your employees build workplace connections is critical if you want to attract and retain talent. People who feel like they belong and have workplace friendships are happier, healthier and more engaged. It takes time and intention, but it’s worth the effort — connection is how you build a great place to work.