It is widely understood that maintaining employees’ physical and mental health plays a significant role in creating a thriving workplace. Yet, there is an equally vital component of workplace wellbeing that is often overlooked – social wellness. When it comes to creating a positive and happy work environment, it has been proven that social wellness is a critical precursor to employee engagement and belonging. Social wellness not only benefits employees, but it also benefits organisations in that it leads to healthy morale, superior performance and greater productivity.

What is social wellness in the workplace?

As human beings we are a social species, and our wellbeing depends on a sense of belonging that is supported by the relationships we have and our interactions with others. Social wellness in a work context refers to employees’ behaviour in building quality connections and engaging in respectful and authentic relationships with colleagues and superiors.

Why is social wellness at work important?

Supporting social wellness improves individual and organisational success because it shows employees that connection with one another is valued by their employers.

  • It positively affects employees’ mental and physical wellbeing:
    This leads to increased happiness and satisfaction that can lower stress, anxiety and even blood pressure.
  • It boosts emotional resilience:
    Having a trusted support system at work generally promotes confidence and reduces work-related stress, which serves to build resilience.
  • It improves life satisfaction:
    Work and life are interconnected. The sense of belonging found in good social connections leads to not only a fulfilling work life but also greater overall life satisfaction.
  • Enhances team cohesion:
    Meaningful social interaction can improve team collaboration and boost overall team efficiency through better communication and improved conflict resolution.
  • Strengthens organisational culture:
    By promoting interpersonal relationships and inclusivity among employees, the whole organisation benefits from a stronger, more resilient organisational culture.

Key outcomes of employee social wellness include:

  • Assertiveness and self-confidence
  • Authenticity in person-to-person and team interactions
  • Treating colleagues with respect
  • Creating and sustaining meaningful friendships in the workplace
  • Establishing relationship boundaries that allow open communication, which builds trust and enables effective conflict resolution
  • Building a reliable support network
  • Awareness of responsibility for the welfare of the greater work community and organisation

Social wellbeing in the digital age

In the digital age, the traditional office-based work environment has transformed into a more flexible hybrid and remote workspace. This shift, though advantageous in many ways, presents a unique challenge when it comes to maintaining employees’ social wellbeing.

Here are four up to date ways to foster social wellbeing no matter where your employees are located:

1. Value the intersection of identities and differences in employees
Take the time to understand the individual needs of each employee. While some employees may flourish in a communal space and traditional office structure, others may thrive in a remote work environment.

  • Onsite and remote workers may have different social wellbeing needs and requirements.
  • Every individual employee will have different comfort levels when it comes to one-on-one communication or group social interactions. As a result, social opportunities can cause discomfort and may also have the unintended effect of feeling forced.
  • While the organisation may provide uniform diversity training for all employees, this could be a source of anxiety and stress for certain people groups. Sensitivity is required.The best course of action is to have managers talk to each of their employees and ask them about their work styles, social wellbeing preferences, and preferred team-building ideas. Listening to and recognising employee preferences goes a long way toward supporting employee social wellbeing

2. Recognise good work and celebrate milestones

Recognition helps employees to build a sense of being a part of something bigger than themselves – particularly for isolated employees. It reminds them not only of what the team is achieving, but also that their everyday actions are seen and valued by others.

  • Empowering managers to regularly recognise individual effort and success – and making recognition a regular part of the working month – will help to build deeper and more meaningful connections within the team.
  • Peer-to-peer recognition is a terrific way to demonstrate gratitude and appreciation. It is even better when that acknowledgment simply becomes part of day-to-day operations.

The nature of such recognition highlights that it is not only big things that are worth celebrating, but also the smaller, behind-the-scenes achievements that often go unnoticed.

3. Connect with causes and so knit together a community

Social wellbeing extends beyond direct employee relationships. It can also include embracing social causes. Volunteering and giving back has incredible wellbeing benefits – it is known to counteract the effects of stress and anxiety. The social contact aspect of employees helping and working with others in doing good can have a profound effect on employees’ overall psychological wellbeing.

  • Employers can provide paid time off to support employees in volunteering for causes important to them or the organisation.
  • They can match employee donations as a structured way to support communities, while helping achieve corporate social responsibility goals.
  • They can provide pro bono services from within the company to non-profit organisations or volunteer for special events to provide an array of options for employees to participate.

4. Employee Resource Groups

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) help employees in building social connections with those who have similar interests or shared identities. ERGs connect employees, even when they may work in different jobs or departments that do not normally interact or in an everyday work setting. Ideally, ERGs are a community within a community that comprises the larger organisation. As such they can contribute greatly to employee social wellbeing, particularly in terms of inclusion and belonging.

In addition to increasing social connection, ERGs can:

  • improve working conditions for disenfranchised people groups and remote workers
  • Open discussions for different opinions and experiences in a safe space
  • Build a new generation of leaders

Organisations that know how to inspire employees to be their best selves and put in their best work take social wellbeing seriously. When organisations encourage socialisation and building healthy relationships among employees, they are not only improving their workers’ social – and emotional – wellbeing, but they are also boosting employee engagement and creating a culture of inclusion, as employees who feel supported and appreciated are, in turn, more likely to support and recognise others. This amplifies the benefit to everyone’s wellbeing.

Over to you for sharing your comments and experiences.


About the Author: Kerstin Jatho

Kerstin is the senior transformational coach and team development facilitator for 4Seeds Consulting. She is also the author of Growing Butterfly Wings, a book on applying positive psychology principles during a lengthy recovery. Her passion is to develop people-centred organisations where people thrive and achieve their potential in the workplace. You can find Kerstin on LinkedIn, Soundcloud, YouTube and Facebook.

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