Social wellbeing is a measure of an employee’s interpersonal relationships both in and outside of work. In the workplace, it means relationships with coworkers, interactions with management. But it’s also a sense of belonging within the business as a whole.

Outside of work, it’s time spent with friends and family. The ability to commit to social engagements without fear of it clashing with work. Social connections are extremely important, not just for wellbeing, but productivity too.

People generally seem to be just as (or more) productive working remotely. However, the main area they struggle in is collaboration. Social connection plays a key role in group productivity. In a study of 12,000 employees from the US, India and Germany, more than half experienced difficulties collaborating after transitioning into remote work.

Of the employees who reported feeling disconnected from their colleagues, 80% reported a drop in productivity. This supports prior findings from Gallup. Their research shows that employees with a best friend at work are more likely to be passionate about their job.

The damaging effects of poor social wellbeing

A study of 2,000 UK workers found that 31% were kept awake at night due to anxiety over interactions with colleagues. Additionally, 25% couldn’t sleep because of worry over relationships with people they cared about.

But what really makes this information interesting is how it contrasts with the study’s other findings. It found that social concerns were seen as more stressful than health issues (19%) and debt (20%). Almost a fifth (17%) ranked lifestyle (holidays, socializing, eating out, etc.) as their highest personal priority. This shows that a sense of belonging in the workplace and having a good work/life balance is a key factor in making sure employees are happy and productive.

Is social wellbeing a Millennial and Gen-Z thing?

Social wellbeing appears to be more of a concern for younger people at work. Over a quarter of employees aged 18-24 rated socializing as more of a priority than physical fitness. But less than a fifth of 35-44 year-olds and only a tenth of employees over 55 reported the same thing.

This could be a generational thing. But it could also just be that older people generally have more reason to be concerned about their physical wellbeing. And with potentially more advanced careers, they may also less time for socializing.

But the personal emphasis many people place on their social wellbeing is unsurprising, really. Consider how damaging loneliness can be to an individual. The group Campaign to End Loneliness recently compiled an array of statistical evidence on the effects of loneliness. Some key points include:

  • Loneliness increases the likelihood of mortality by 26%.
  • Social isolation is as damaging to someone’s health as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day.
  • Loneliness increases the risk of both cognitive decline and depression.
  • Lonely people could be much more likely to develop dementia in later life.
  • The likelihood of loneliness is significantly correlated with age

Improving social wellbeing in the workplace

It’s important to have a sense of social cohesion at work to support wellbeing. It helps employees when they feel like part of a larger whole. Obviously, too many meetings can be bad for productivity. But occasional in person catch ups can help make staff feel more involved, appreciated and “seen.”

Moreover, it gives you the chance to make sure everyone is clued up on the latest objectives and internal developments.

Running or sponsoring social activities is another great way to help your people connect with each other. Finding activities to help your people relax is fun, and helps take the pressure off of small talk. This could be anything from an office party to group activities or charity days. It can also be a good idea to start special interest or support groups.

Think book clubs, exercise groups or any other shared hobby.  These can pay off for your company in terms of loyalty and engagement. And they can also offer up other wellbeing benefits, or even personal development opportunities.

The role of inclusivity in boosting social wellbeing

The UK workforce is also a lot more diverse than it was even a decade or two ago. But to be fair, it can vary by industry or sector. For example, see our piece here on the UK legal sector. But in many cases, more employees than ever are female, LGBTQ or BAME.

As such, an increasingly important part of improving social wellbeing at work is ensuring that your work culture welcomes everyone. Acknowledge and discuss unconscious biases, and offer diversity and bias training where appropriate. Activism and support groups for BAME or LGBTQ issues can also help employees from diverse backgrounds connect to other people with similar experiences. This is an excellent way to make sure your people can find the workplace support they need.

Why the right work-life balance matters

The other side of social wellbeing at work is that of work-life balance. We all have obligations and things we want to do that don’t involve work or our colleagues, after all. You know what happens when an employee feels they are constantly failing to uphold social norms because of their job? Motivation and productivity suffer as a result. To support the social wellbeing of your staff, take steps to help them balance their work commitments and social obligations.

It’s surprisingly common to find employees feel guilty about taking time off. And that’s despite many countries outside of the US legally mandating employers to provide PTO. This can be due to commitments at work. Doctors can often stress over taking time off for fear of what might happen to their patients, for example. In other jobs, a workplace culture that encourages overwork can make people feel obligated to stick it out.

But it can help to share your company’s holiday policy and encourage staff to use their time off.

Are flexible working practices the solution to a better work-life balance?

Another way to help staff manage their work-life balance is to develop and promote flexible working arrangements. For example, staff will be better able to manage out-of-work social engagements if they can work non-standard office hours. Some organisations, such as Plymouth-based law firm Portcullis Legals, even offer condensed workweeks. This is where staff can choose to work ten-hour shifts four days a week.

This style of schedule-cramming definitely isn’t for everyone. But many people appreciate the extra day off, as opposed to the traditional eight-hour shifts five days a week. Not all types of flexible working will be suitable for every business. But it is quickly becoming standard practice to offer at least some options for working flexibly, especially in 2020.

An ever-growing number of our clients here at Zensai are implementing a range of flexible work processes. For now, it’s enabling a greater focus on staff wellbeing at work. But there is mounting pressure to ask the serious questions around how human working habits impact the environment. So even after events like the spread of COVID-19, flexible working will only continue to rise.

Whatever your approach, the social wellbeing of employees needs to be a focus for all businesses in 2020 and beyond.