Steps to build and strengthen social connections at work

WaStateDES
4 min readJun 8, 2023

In the U.S. Surgeon General’s Framework for Workplace Mental Health and Well-being, community and connection represents the human need for social support and belonging.

We are more likely to thrive when we have networks that support us both physically and psychologically and when we feel like an accepted member of a group. In this article, we discuss the benefits of building social connection at work, as well as specific steps that you can take when developing your own connections.

Illustration: Looking down on people in circles with locked hands.

There are numerous benefits to having positive work relationships. Some of those benefits include:

Reduced risk of poor health

In Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation, the U.S. Surgeon General notes “Social connection — the structure, function, and quality of our relationships with others — is a critical and underappreciated contributor to individual and population health, community safety, resilience, and prosperity.”

The benefits of social connection include:

  • Improved ability to cope with and manage stress, anxiety and depression.
  • Improved physical health, sleep and eating.
  • Higher life satisfaction and overall well-being.

The lack of social connection increases the risk of physical health diseases, such as heart disease and stroke and mental health concerns, including depression, anxiety and dementia.

Improved work performance

A healthier and happier you is less likely to be absent from work and less distracted by unresolved personal challenges when at work. Being present and focused positively impacts your level of engagement and allows you to feel and be committed to your work.

Decreased conflict

Strong and positive relationships at work promote respect and the development of healthy relationship skills, including communication, advocacy, trust-building and conflict management.

Increased satisfaction

Social connection is a positive influence on your satisfaction at work. Positive relationships make work more enjoyable and decrease the risk of the “Sunday blues” — the dread of the coming workday after time away.

Steps you can take

Here are some steps you can take to build and strengthen your social connection at work:

Understand unconscious bias. We are wired to categorize and simplify information we receive through our five senses — sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. This process helps us navigate and survive in our complex environments, and it happens at both conscious and unconscious levels. Our minds take short cuts to facilitate the process, leading to decisions that might not be fully informed. This is unconscious bias — an innate feature in all of us and not a sign of moral or ethical failure.

What can you do to make the unconscious a little more conscious?

  • Be aware. Your perceptions and decisions are continually affected by automatic processes and are influenced by past experiences and memories, thoughts, emotions, beliefs and values.
  • Pause and ask. Not every decision needs to be made in the moment or can’t be re-examined. Ask yourself — Am I considering all the facts? What is my opinion based on? How does my decision help or hurt me?
  • Expand your horizon. We tend to align with others who appear to have similarities to ourselves. While doing so might feel comfortable and safe, we miss opportunities to connect with and learn about others. Meeting, connecting and engaging with those “others” allows for increased understanding and less reliance on short cuts.

Know your boundaries. The American Psychological Association defines boundaries as “a psychological demarcation that protects the integrity of an individual or group or that helps the person or group set realistic limits on participation in a relationship or activity”.

Boundaries allow you to set goals and limits for your personal and professional lives. Boundaries also allows for healthy connections at work, reducing the risk of miscommunication, misunderstanding and conflict.

Establishing and maintaining social connections at work looks different for each person. Going to lunch regularly with a group of coworkers might work for some but feel physically and emotional exhausting for others. It’s important to know what works and doesn’t work for you.

Ask and actively listen. Asking questions and actively listening allows you to learn more about your coworkers show you are interested in them and value them. Active listening is a key communication skill that involves taking in the information shared with you, reflecting it back, seeking clarity and demonstrating that you heard them.

Show appreciation. Showing appreciation tells the person they matter, builds trust and strengthens connections. Ask your coworkers how they like to be appreciated. One person might like public demonstrations, while another might like a more direct and personal approach.

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The Washington State Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a free, confidential program created to promote the health, safety and well-being of public service employees and their household adult family members. EAP provides counseling and other resources to support well-being, address workplace concerns, and help with legal and financial issues. Reach out to EAP online or call 877–313–4455. To find out if the Washington State EAP serves your agency or organization, contact your supervisor or human resources department.

Links to external websites are provided as a convenience. The Employee Assistance Program and the Department of Enterprise Services do not endorse the content, services, or viewpoints found at these external sites. Information is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to replace the counsel or advice of a qualified health or legal professional. For further help, questions, or referral to community resources for specific problems or personal concerns, contact the EAP or other qualified professional.

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WaStateDES

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