Why You Need More Connection Across the Entire Employee Lifecycle

Posted in Research Thoughts & Culture

At Enboarder, we’ve made it our mission to help companies build and grow their employee connection.

Why?

Because, from quiet quitting to the Great Resignation, disconnection has been the root cause of many of the recent trends that have been hurting our businesses and our people, and something needs to be done about it.

According to McKinsey, more than three-quarters of workers reported that they’re connecting with others less frequently, have smaller networks, and spend less time and effort on relationship building since the start of the pandemic. And this lack of connection has had real detrimental effects on our people (BetterUp found that employees with low social connection were 77% more likely to be stressed, 109% more likely to report feeling burned out, and 158% more likely to experience anxiety and depression).

And this is more than just a personal issue – HBR reports that employee disconnection is costing companies over $406 billion per year, and these are just the costs we know about. There are many other costs associated with employee disconnection which are much harder to measure.

For example, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) found that one in five workers are planning to switch jobs within 12 months (joining the 50 million other people who changed jobs last year). And when you think about it from an HR perspective, you spend so much time and effort recruiting and onboarding these folks, and within the first year, they're ready to switch again.

How can we possibly create a healthy company culture and achieve our business goals with such a substantially changing and shifting workforce?

Connection and belonging will be the top issues HR has to tackle in 2023, and that makes it worthy of deeper discussion.

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Proximity ≠ Connection

A quick note: Remote workers are more than three times as likely to report feeling disconnected as their in-office peers, and thankfully, we’ve seen naturally-occuring increases in feelings of connection as more of the workforce has returned to the office.

The problem is that these separate statistics are often conflated, leading leadership to assume that connection is only related to proximity, but that simply isn’t the case (We’re all familiar with the common scene of rows of people working head-down in cubicles, physically close but mentally distant from their co-workers).

In reality, the true reasons for disconnection have more to do with bigger issues that transcend physical proximity, like lack of management support, lack of transparency in the organization, and just an overall disconnect from the overall organizational mission and purpose.

How can you start building connection?

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There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for building company connection, but this can actually be a good thing. The key is to start small, take baby steps, and do it with intention.

Here’s how our most successful customers have gone about creating connection within their organizations:

  1. Understand what connection means in your organization’s context.
    Take surveys, conduct focus groups, and find other creative ways to get employee feedback on their needs and what connection means to them. They will likely be blunt in giving you their thoughts, and this is a very good thing.
  2. Think through what type of connection you need to enable and when.
    Traditionally, leadership has seen “connection” as an oversimplified, singular idea, when really there are multiple independent forms and levels of connection that your employees need to experience to be successful. Do your people need to connect with their internal teams? Do you need to encourage more cross-organizational connection? Do your people need more alignment with your overall company mission and purpose? And are these new connections that need to be formed, or are there existing connections that just need to be deepened? Connection truly is a spectrum, but focusing on a single dimension to start can greatly help you simplify your approach. (Want to learn more about the four quadrants of connection? Check out the research we conducted with RedThread here.)
  3. Identify methods to enable the connection you want to create. Your answers to points one and two above will help guide you to a more structured and actionable approach you can use to help drive greater connection.

A quick note on managers

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Not surprisingly, as they’re our employee’s bridge to the larger organization, a lot of the burden of creating and maintaining connection falls on our managers.

Our research has shown that employees who feel disconnected are twice as likely to cite their managers as the source of their feelings of disconnection, and, generally, Gallup has found that managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores.

That said, we need to be careful to not just add the task of creating connection as another item on our managers’ already long list of responsibilities (as the majority of our managers already report feeling burned out). Instead, we need to look for ways to help our managers by embedding opportunities for connection into the processes and tasks that they’re already performing with their people.

Here are a few things that we’ve seen be successful:

  • Weekly three-question Slack survey on Mondays to talk about the weekend, your big goals for the week, and what support you need from others.
  • Revamped one-on-one templates to include discussion on longer-term career progression and connection-related check-ins.
  • Asking new hires their favorite 3 p.m. snack and then having it ready for them on their first day.

Even something as simple as a team Slack channel for posting pet pictures has been shown to help teams feel more connected to their peers.

So, as you’re crafting your strategies for boosting connection, make sure you’re doing it in such a way that works with your managers and helps them create better team connection through the motions they’re already performing.

How can you know if your connection efforts are working?

Many companies already perform annual pulse or engagement surveys, but there are several other useful tools that can help provide data to help you understand if your connection efforts are working.

For example, you can use usage data from Microsoft Teams, Viva, Google, or Slack to understand how and how often your people are communicating with each other to look for patterns, and you can also get relevant and useful information from engagement-specific tools like Enboarder.

There’s so much useful data out there. The point is to get creative and be aware of the data that’s already available to you.

Taking it a step further

In addition to creating connection-focused actions and programs, we’ve also seen many customers have success integrating connection into their managers’ performance goals.

To be clear, the focus isn’t on making a metric for someone to pass or fail. It’s more about making connection more of a daily thought and part of the regular workplace vernacular.

Closing thoughts

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What our people need and expect from work in 2023 is only going to build on what we’ve seen over these past couple of years. And as the impacts of employee connection and belonging become better understood, they’re only going to grow as focus areas within our organizations.

We’re just starting to see the beginnings of the change in dynamics, not only with our current workforce, but also with new employees bringing new expectations. If you don’t have at least a basic strategy in place now, you will undoubtedly start to see the effects very soon (if you’re not seeing them already).

So, don't wait!

Start thinking about how to foster and grow your employee connections now, and, as always, don’t hesitate to reach out if we can be of any assistance.