The 9-5 office job had been the norm for many years, until the rise of the gig economy, workplace digitalization, and flexible work arrangements disrupted our traditional ways of working.
While the shift has clear benefits, including better support of a healthy work/life balance, it also comes with some drawbacks. Key among them is the decline of the social connections which were common in the workplace of 20 years ago. The COVID-19 crisis is only further disrupting our ways of working and our workplace social connections
Human beings are innately social. Our social connections deeply influence our mental health and our workplace engagement and productivity. Even as the workplace becomes increasingly digital and remote — and even as businesses navigate this pandemic — it is imperative that companies nurture employees’ social well-being. It’s not just for the good of the employee — it’s also for the good of the organization’s bottom line.
The Necessity of Social Well-Being Support
Employees want to feel connected and included in the workplace. In fact, those employees who are socially isolated at work are often less productive, and they may even have higher mortality rates. This is why it is so important for organizations to do whatever they can to ensure their employees don’t just feel like they are part of a team, but truly are in practice.
Cultivating healthy workplace social relationships was one thing when the traditional office job was the norm. With nearly everyone working remotely now, it can be especially difficult to cultivate social connections at work. Still, this is a dire challenge that must be addressed. Even once the pandemic has passed, our new ways of working will be the norm for future generations. For the professionals of tomorrow, work will be more virtual and flexible than ever before. The social aspects of the office will not longer be standard, and those employers that can support social well-being will have a real differentiator in a competitive talent market.
What Social Supports Do Your Employees Want?
Supporting employee social well-being is largely a matter of offering your workers the right assortment of social benefits. Implemented properly, these benefits can be easy to deliver and relatively cost-effective.
What constitutes a “social benefit”? There are a wide range of options, and your program can be tailored to your employees’ specific needs and preferences. Some examples include: holding monthly lunches, hosting after-work socials, throwing companywide success celebrations, or granting employees charity days during which they can donate their time to a good cause together.
If you’re not sure where to start, consider your own company culture: What are employees already doing? Is there a way you can lend organizational support to these more organic social activities?
For example, if your employees already donate to or volunteer for various causes, that’s a good sign they would embrace the idea of paid days off to volunteer. If your team members like to hang out with one another, regular after-hours gatherings might be more to their liking.
It can also be helpful to get employees directly involved in your social benefits decisions by soliciting their input. Ask employees what kinds of events and gatherings they’d like to see. Not only will this give you valuable insight into what your employees need, but it will also help ensure a successful rollout of your social well-being initiative. Employees are more likely to utilize a benefit they specifically requested.
Ultimately, the key to implementing social benefits is to make them meaningful and relevant. Employees can tell the difference between gimmicky, high-visibility benefits and those that present a real opportunity to build meaningful social connections.
Using Technology to Support Social Benefits
Having social benefits in place only pays off if your employees actually leverage those benefits. Indeed, many companies already offer social benefits but see little return on the investment because they need to improve communication around those benefits. Be sure to publicize your social well-being offerings through regular email blasts, benefits portals, and staff meetings to raise awareness and encourage more engagement.
Data-driven insights can also help you understand which benefits are valued most by which employee groups. For that reason, you may want to consider implementing a technology solution to track social benefit uptake by demographic, business unit, and/or location. Using this data to understand engagement and benchmark benefit usage and spend is integral to creating a personalized and relevant benefits experience for your employees. You should also gather employee feedback to hear directly from employees about the types of support they value most.
Social well-being cannot be ignored — not at this moment, and not as the future of work becomes more and more remote and flexible. The appetite for social well-being programs is only going to increase as younger generations enter the workforce. If your organization implements a strong social wellness offering, you’ll not only boost employee engagement and productivity — you’ll also gain a valuable differentiator in the war for talent.
Matthew Jackson is vice president of client solutions at Thomsons Online Benefits.
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Matt Jackson is the vice president of client solutions at Thomsons Online Benefits, the company that created Darwin, the No. 1 global benefits management and employee engagement platform. Passionate about innovative technology that can transform HR functions, Matt works closely with clients to help them get the most out of Darwin, educating them on everything from what it is and the value it delivers to how it is implemented in complex environments.