Last week marked a memorable event at Steople as we came together for our annual holiday celebration. The festivities included visits to pop-up shops, a fantastic lunch paired with a movie, and a private room reservation at a local restaurant. As I walked in the door and saw the “Steople Team Dinner” sign, I thought about all the lost time over the last few years when we could not get together.  The atmosphere was festive with Christmas music, trees, garlands, holiday drinks, and plenty of people buzzing about. It was just formal enough to be special but also laid back and relaxed.  It was evident how much the team needed this casual time together. Amidst the joyous occasion, reflections on the past challenging months prompted a realization – why don’t we engage in these gatherings more frequently?

Looking around the table, to my left was my dear friend of 25 years from graduate school, and seated at my right was one of my closest friends.  As I looked around the table at the entire team, it struck me that these moments were not just about celebration; they served as a powerful reset. For me, this evening rekindled the profound importance of placing people at the forefront of everything we do.  Are our business goals important?  Of course, but amid the daily hustle to accomplish our tasks, it’s easy to forget how crucial these relationships are to our professional and personal well-being.  We must get back to what makes us strong – having quality interactions.  According to a Harvard Business Review study, a staggering 61% of employees report feeling lonely at work, highlighting the need for time together.

So, What, Now What?
Amidst a global “loneliness epidemic” intensified by the isolation of remote work, businesses find themselves grappling with the imperative task of alleviating the pervasive sense of isolation among their workforce. Addressing these feelings of disconnectedness enhances individual team members’ well-being and emerges as a fundamental factor in shaping a resilient and thriving company culture. In this blog, I will explore practical steps for leaders to support their teams during these challenging times. This is especially compelling right now during the holiday hustle and bustle when people can be in a crowded room full of festive people and still feel very alone.  These are some initial steps you can take:

1. Champion Vulnerability
Loneliness poses a significant threat to workplace culture. Leaders can combat this by fostering a culture of connection through vulnerability. As advocated by thought leaders like Brené Brown, vulnerability involves opening up and sharing one’s authentic self, including fears and uncertainties. When leaders demonstrate vulnerability, it fosters psychological safety and trust within a team. This, in turn, helps combat feelings of isolation and loneliness.

2. Incorporate Team-Building Initiatives
Loneliness negatively impacts productivity, with 79% of employees reporting declining work performance due to feelings of isolation. Leaders can counteract this by organizing team-building activities and promoting deeper connections among team members. Integrating mandatory “5-minute icebreakers” before meetings is an effective strategy, enhancing personal interactions and fostering collaboration.

3. Prioritize Social Team Gatherings and Well-being Checks
Engaged employees are more productive, with Forbes reporting a 21% increase in profitability for companies with high levels of employee engagement. Recognizing humans as social beings, leaders can combat loneliness by facilitating meaningful social interactions. Promoting social team gatherings and scheduling well-being checks contribute to a positive work environment and heightened productivity.

4. Encourage Connections Outside of Work
Beyond work, employees need to foster connections in various aspects of life. Encouraging employees to reconnect with personal interests, family, and friends is crucial. Overworking exacerbates loneliness, with a survey by Harvard Business Review revealing that 40% of remote workers feel burnt out due to longer working hours. Encourage a culture that values personal connections beyond the professional sphere.

5. Establish ERGs or Hobby Groups
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and hobby-focused groups can be instrumental in combating isolation. Gallup reports that employees who have a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged. Leaders can create a sense of belonging by emphasizing engagement around common interests, fostering camaraderie, and instilling a shared sense of purpose.

6. Cultivate Norms, Routines, and Traditions
Company culture plays a vital role in mitigating loneliness, as indicated by a Harvard Business Review study showing that 48% of employees consider a strong company culture essential. Establishing team norms, routines, and traditions creates a sense of community, reducing the risk of loneliness or silos within departments. Teams that feel connected experience higher engagement, positively influencing employee retention rates.

7. Create Opportunities for Regular Interactions
Regular interactions contribute significantly to relationship building. SHRM reports that 50% of employees feel more connected when they have strong relationships with their colleagues. Leaders should provide opportunities for teams to interact frequently, fostering social connections among coworkers and contributing to overall job satisfaction.

8. Equip Managers with Connection-building Skills
Managers play a pivotal role in shaping the employee experience. According to Deloitte, 87% of employees rate professional development and growth opportunities as important to them. Providing managers with the skills to cultivate social ties within teams not only combats burnout and turnover but also boosts engagement and overall performance.

9. Prioritize Individual One-on-Ones
Gallup reports that employees who feel their opinions count at work are more engaged. Leaders should initiate one-on-one check-in meetings to demonstrate genuine concern. Being fully present in these interactions allows leaders to discern nuances like body language and tone, establishing a regular cadence of individual meetings to connect with the team.

10. Adopt a Holistic Approach
Holistic well-being contributes to overall employee satisfaction and engagement. The Harvard Business Review found that 89% of organizations see improved retention due to well-being programs. Leaders should encourage having fun together, organize enjoyable bonding activities, and create an environment that supports employees personally and professionally.

11. Encourage Communication and Recognition
Communication is vital in reducing feelings of isolation. Gallup reports that 51% of employees are not engaged at work due to insufficient communication from leadership. Leaders should promote diverse communication channels to facilitate easy connection and collaboration. Regular recognition of employee contributions and positive feedback nurtures a sense of value and connection within the team.

12. Facilitate Non-Work-Related Conversations
Personal connections at work significantly impact job satisfaction. Recent research found that 57% of employees who have friends at work say they love their job. Leaders should engage in intentional, non-work-related conversations regularly, fostering a supportive environment where employees feel they belong and are well-supported.

Steople’s recent holiday celebration served as a powerful catalyst for recognizing the crucial role of human connections in the workplace. As leaders, this is a great reminder to combat workplace loneliness, emphasizing vulnerability, team-building initiatives, social gatherings, and various strategies to foster a people-centric culture. Amidst the holiday rush, these insights offer a concise roadmap for businesses to prioritize meaningful interactions, contributing to both personal and professional fulfillment.