Widespread digitalisation, the rise of the gig economy and increasingly flexible working patterns all have their benefits. However, they are contributing to increasing social isolation within the workforce.
Many employees face anxiety over their social connectedness, which can often translate into concern regarding relationships with colleagues and loved ones. Our latest research of 2000 UK employees revealed that 31% are kept awake at night due to stress about interactions with colleagues and their workload, while 25% can’t sleep worrying about relationships with people they care about. Interestingly, these factors are deemed more stressful than current debts (20%) and coping with health issues (19%).
To overcome this, employees in the UK want social wellbeing support from their employers. Social wellbeing is the degree to which an employee feels they are connected to, and included in the relationships around them.
It isn’t hard at all to see why employees want help with their social wellbeing, given the importance they place on their lifestyle. Our research found 17% of employees rank lifestyle, including eating out, socialising with friends and going on holiday, as their most important personal priority – above their physical and mental wellbeing and financial stability.
In fact, some employees are even neglecting other areas of their wellbeing in favour of their social wellbeing. When employees were asked what was preventing them from improving their physical fitness, 11% said they’d prefer to socialise. Furthermore, we’re seeing younger generations prioritising their lifestyle compared to older employees. 26% of 18-24 year olds prioritise this, compared to 19% of 35-44 year olds and just 10% of 55+ year olds.
Employers should appreciate that employees’ social connections, and how they feel about these connections, can have an incredible impact on workplace engagement and productivity. If an employee feels socially supported and valued, they are likely to be more productive and more closely aligned to their organisation’s values.
So what can employers do to help? They need to show their people that they care. Creating a culture that prioritises social interactions and inclusiveness is much more effective than implementing one-off benefits with no long-term value.
Organising monthly lunches gives employees valuable time to socialise, gain new perspectives or insights from others and enjoy time away from their desk. As a result, employees feel inspired and more productive. Our research found that monthly lunches are valued by a staggering 63% of employees, and even more so by 18-24 year olds (72%).
Frequent success celebrations are valued by over half (56%) of employees. Use these company-wide gatherings to recognise employees for their contributions and make them feel part of an inclusive, welcoming environment.
Other initiatives include Friday night drinks, ‘bring your pet to work’ days, group exercise classes and breakfast clubs. Have you thought about the benefits of team-bonding challenges or company-wide charity fundraisers to bring your people together? Finally, consider offering a flexible pot of money that employees can use to spend on their own social activities, such as learning a new language.
With employees facing anxiety over their social connectedness, employers must help with the human interaction so many are seeking. By improving social wellbeing in the workplace, employers benefit from their people feeling more involved and cared about, and therefore higher employee engagement and productivity.
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By Jack Curzon, Consulting Director, Thomsons Online Benefits