Social Wellbeing is “even more” valuable post-pandemic

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Social Wellbeing is increasingly being included in employers’ wellbeing strategies, as explored in this article. 

Khusboo Patel, Head of Engagement and Inclusion at Metro Bank speculates that the reason it’s “taking centre stage” is due to the Covid-19 effect:

“Perhaps the impact the pandemic had on social wellbeing – around the world, both at home and at work – has meant that we as a society value social wellbeing even more.”

But what about the flipside of social wellbeing, loneliness?

“Social wellbeing in the workplace is about connection and belonging,” says Petra Velzeboer, CEO and Founder, PVL. “So when considering this, it’s hugely important that we look at the loneliness statistics, too, which is essentially the absence of social wellbeing, belonging and connection.”

As many as 34% of respondents said they found working from home lonely, in research by ergonomics firm Posturite. The same survey revealed only 36% felt well connected to colleagues while working from home, 54% felt somewhat connected and 10% of people didn’t feel connected at all.

Velzeboer continues: “There are three main types of loneliness: emotional, social and existential. And I think a lot of people are going through one, or more of those three types without maybe realising it.”

Different types of loneliness

She describes ‘social’ as the tendency not to want to make the effort to socialise, ‘emotional’ as lack of depth of connection and ‘existential’ as feeling an emptiness in life which causes people to reevaluate. 

During the pandemic many people experienced “existential loneliness” and questioned their lifestyles, including choice of work, partly leading to the ‘Great Resignation’:

“People have made radical changes, like moving country, and I think that’s off the back of existential loneliness and asking themselves ‘why am I doing this?”

Physical isolation post-pandemic

Post pandemic, she’d add “physical isolation” into the mix, due to homeworking, as another cause of loneliness:

“You may be chatting to people all day in virtual meetings but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting the serotonin boost from connection because the conversations may be very task oriented or transactional. In order to have good social wellbeing there are three core elements that you need: to feel seen, heard and valued.”

Jane Bradshaw Jones, HR Business Partner, AdviserPlus, agrees that the situation has changed post pandemic and there is much more risk of loneliness because of the lack of cameradie that existed then:

“Some employees thrived during the pandemic as there was a sense of ‘being in this together’ but now remote, hybrid working for some has become the norm, it may be a struggle for some colleagues to return to an engaged, social way of working.”

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Good social connections are uplifting

For all these reasons, it’s more important than ever for employers to be mindful of their employees’ social wellbeing and watch out for signs of loneliness, not only because this is the right thing to do but because it will create a more productive workforce. 

According to AON Principal Wellbeing Consultant Letitia Rowlin:

“In the workplace, we tend to be more motivated, productive, and engaged when we have good social wellbeing and friendships within the workplace. Good social connections and relationships at work help to lift us when other aspects of the job may be demanding.”

Aon’s Global Wellbeing Survey also shows that a sense of belonging is vital to being part of a high performing team and can lead to better employee engagement.

So how can employers build social wellbeing in the workplace that mitigate loneliness?

“We need to actively put in time and effort to build them. Strengthening our social connections requires development of a skillset which includes skills such as listening attentively, developing capacity for compassion, kindness, understanding diversity and inclusion and fostering collaboration (to name a few),” says Rowlin.

She adds that other factors which help are a “level of self-disclosure and vulnerability and inclusive leadership”. On the diversity and inclusion point, Marteka Swaby, Founder, Benevolent Health, adds that some employees will find it harder to feel they belong than others:

“For example, first generation women of colour, warranted or not, worry about how standing out will affect us. Throughout history, social connections and group membership have been critical for survival, so it is natural to question whether we fit into new environments.”

Career coaching is part of social wellbeing

And it’s not just “social” activities that can build social wellbeing. Career coaching and helping your employees meet their career potential is also included under this pillar of wellbeing. According to Expedia’s Laura Pearce, this is particularly important to the younger generation entering the workforce. 

“They are looking for what employers can give them and expect that an employer will bring benefits to them and their life. I think this is a shift from where we were a number of years ago when people were more thankful of anything offered and saw it as a bonus – now it is an expectation. In terms of career coaching, I’ve seen this alot.”

But before you hastily rollout a new coaching programme, organise a virtual pub quiz, or get everyone together for a traditional ‘team building’ exercise, and think you’ve ticked the ‘social wellbeing’ box,  make sure what you’re organising is something your employees actually want to do (it’s not just something you want to do!). 

No one size fits all

The best thing to do is ask them how they want to socialise and you’ll quickly realise that this varies from person to person, particularly if you’re considering employees that feel marginalised in any way, are neurodiverse, introverted or purely home-based. 

The goal should be to create enough options that your employees can find some social outlet that suits them without feeling pressure to take part in something they are not comfortable with. 

As well as this, it’s vital to remember that loneliness is caused by a lack of real connection, so ensure you are also creating opportunities to have meaningful, not just superficial, connections.

As Velzeboer says:

“It’s about going deeper than ‘let’s have a sports day’ or ‘let’s bring the ping pong table out’ or ‘let’s have a beer or game night’. These kind of tactics might fit some people but they are not going to be inclusive for everyone. Remember that connection and belonging really happen in your informal conversations throughout the day where people feel like they’re humans, and not just tasks and numbers. So social wellbeing must go beyond perks and benefits and move into real talk and depth of connection.”

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