There’s a tendency to think that social media and instant communication has made our world more connected. But the latest research on social connection in the digital age actually shows that the opposite is true: we’re in the midst of an “epidemic of loneliness.” While we can now get in touch with people anytime, anywhere with the push of a button, the quality of our relationships is rapidly deteriorating.
That’s due in part to how technology distracts us during face-to-face interactions. In a piece titled “Smartphones Are The New Cigarettes,” New York Times best-selling author Mark Manson wrote about the surprising spillover effects the presence of technology can have, even on those not using it. “The same way second-hand smoke harms the lungs of people around the smoker, smartphones harm the attention and focus of people around the smartphone user,” he wrote. “It causes us to lose our train of thought and forget that important point we were constructing in our head. It erodes at our ability to connect and simply be present with one another, destroying intimacy in the process.”
So, for your employees to connect with each other, it’s absolutely crucial that they interact without the presence of technology. Of course, the answer isn’t to get rid of technology entirely. We can have a healthier relationship to technology, one that allows us to take advantage of its benefits while still connecting meaningfully with others. And managers have a central role in helping their employees create that relationship. An employee who feels supported — at work and at home — will be much more able to contribute than one who doesn’t. In fact, employees who feel connected to others in the workplace have been shown to be more engaged. A 2016 meta-analysis in Personality and Social Psychology Review found that “people who feel more camaraderie with their colleagues, and more connection to the company itself, have better health and happiness and are less likely to burn out.”
Adam Grant, a professor of management and psychology at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, says real-life connection with co-workers is important to workplace success. “We may be underestimating the impact of workplace friendships on our happiness — and our effectiveness,” he writes in The New York Times. “Jobs are more satisfying when they provide opportunities to form friendships. Research shows that groups of friends outperform groups of acquaintances in both decision making and effort tasks. When friends work together, they’re more trusting and committed to one another’s success. That means they share more information and spend more time helping — and as long as they don’t hold back on constructive criticism out of politeness, they make better choices and get more done.”
Here’s how to get started in fostering meaningful connections among your team members:
- Make meetings device free: Create a policy that encourages full engagement in meetings. This will not only make your meetings more efficient and effective, it will encourage employees to be more present and allow them to get to know each other better.
- Encourage employees to give back together: Giving our time to others is scientifically proven to improve our well-being. Center your next team outing around community service.
- Institute walking meetings: Shake up what your team meeting looks and feels like and encourage people to get outside. Walking meetings are proven to increase creative thinking and evidence suggests people are actually more open and honest in them.