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How to Generate Genuine Connection in the Workplace


How to Generate Genuine Connection in the Workplace

Genuine connection in the workplace? Don’t feel like reading? Listen here!

In 2015, before we all became Zoom experts during the COVID pandemic, I met a wonderful client who became a research partner, friend, and mentor, Dr. Steven Lindner of The WorkPlace Group. We have laughed together, brainstormed business ideas, conducted primary research and evaluated results, prepared conference presentations, and drafted articles together. 

But there is one thing we’ve never done: we have never met in person. I have never shaken his hand or sat next to him during a meeting. Yet we’ve built a genuine connection in the workplace. We established great rapport and have maintained a positive work relationship for eight years.

Steve and I recently chatted about the difference between genuine connections in the workplace and manufactured efforts by employers to force employees to connect. We contemplated which efforts we make as individuals really lead to forming real connections.

In the workplace, we often consider connecting with others only during meetings, at conferences, and at networking events. But networking is bigger than these settings; it’s truly connecting with others and building relationships.

Building Genuine Connection in the Workplace: Why It Matters

“While it may seem like ‘water cooler’ conversations are counterproductive, whether they occur around an actual water cooler, in an elevator, or during those few moments before a Zoom meeting, they are serendipitous opportunities to create new friendships. And, friendships ultimately lead to real, organic, and genuine connections,” Dr. Lindner asserts.

Building organic connections matters more than ever because American workers admit to feeling lonely, isolated, and disconnected. These feelings may stem from pandemic stress and anxiety. 63% of Americans report generalized stress, with 42% reporting symptoms of depression and anxiety.

connection in the workplace tips

The World Health Organization acknowledges at least a 25% increase in stress, depression, and anxiety during the COVID pandemic.

To combat our feelings of isolation, loneliness, depression, and anxiety, we must actively build real connections with others. Since many of us devote a significant portion of our time to work, why not build connections in the workplace?

Another great reason to build a genuine connection in the workplace is to facilitate career growth, fulfillment, and success. The Better Up Insights Report finds that when workers seek to strengthen soft skills and develop better workplace relationships, they benefit in multiple ways. 34% of workers report greater goal attainment. 36% claim a boost in well-being, and 59% believe their workplace relationships became more positive. Lastly, a whopping 92% experienced professional growth.

Keep in mind real connections don’t always occur between colleagues. We often work directly with people, and when we don’t click with them, it’s difficult to build real rapport. But keep an open mind. Who else could you connect with in the workplace?

“Friendships eventually form [at work], and one day you may find yourself getting a beer with the folks in the secretarial pool or having a martini with managers you don’t work with, but chat with, in the hallways,” Art Seratelli, Immigration Attorney, notes. You aren’t required to limit yourself to connecting with direct reports or teammates. Building connections with coworkers certainly improves your relationships with them, which can make the work itself more enjoyable and smoother-going. But even if you can’t connect easily with teammates, connect with someone else at work.

Feeling Disconnected? 5 Tips to Reconnect

If you feel disconnected in the workplace or lack a sense of belonging, you’re not alone. Pew Research cites that 65% of Americans feel disconnected in the workplace.

However, the good news is reconnecting post-pandemic is a realistic expectation and goal, whether you are in a traditional, hybrid, or remote workplace. Only 35% of remote workers say building a connection in the workplace remotely is difficult, and many have found creative ways to connect online and over the phone, both synchronously and asynchronously.

build connection in the workplace

Connect on the Regular

Don’t wait for the next conference, staff meeting, or annual employee gathering to connect with people. Create your own workplace rituals and routines around connecting with others. You don’t have to be wildly inventive. Just look for opportunities when conversations seem to occur easily and naturally and go to those opportunities.

Don’t be afraid to ask your supervisor if you can facilitate stronger connections with your teammates. Think about the most popular hashtags on LinkedIn focused on days of the week. Take five minutes for Thankful Thursday during your meeting, with each teammate sharing a thought on gratitude. 

Build in time to recognize others for their hard work, contributions, and accomplishments during the last few minutes of a regular meeting. You’ll be using your time well because you’re already gathered together, and you’ll be creating a ritual to generate togetherness, encouragement, and positivity.

Consider Mentorship

A practical, mutually beneficial way to connect in the workplace is through mentorship. Whether your workplace has a formal mentorship program or not is irrelevant. If you don’t have a mentor, find one in your workplace. You may also want to consider seeking a career mentor who does not work with you but who can provide big-picture, objective feedback as well.

If you aren’t mentoring anyone at work and have more than a few years of work experience, offer to mentor someone who is new or recently changed departments or roles. Even if you only provide temporary guidance as this employee learns the ropes, you’ll be doing them a huge favor, and you’ll build a lasting connection in the workplace.

Mentorships can be particularly beneficial if you’re a remote or hybrid worker. Pairing up with at least one other person and maintaining that human, regular touch point can be invaluable in fostering a sense of belonging, motivation, and encouragement.

Go Deeper

Most employees are forced to interact with others already. You probably see people in the hallway or sit next to them during meetings. Why not go deeper and attempt to form a genuine connection beyond conversations about budgets, projects, and programs?

Look for opportunities to connect casually in unstructured settings.

“I will walk throughout the building to see if doors are open. If a door is open, and a person looks available, I try to have at least a brief conversation with them. I want to be part of creating a culture where every person knows they are important. I want to listen to people more than I want to talk to people because listening provides an opportunity for true connectivity,” states Michael Stinnett, career coach.

Connect During Breaks

Why not use your break time to build connections? Everyone needs to take a five-minute walk. Invite a colleague to walk around the building or trek to the nearest café with you for a quick snack or cup of tea.

Your legs will get some exercise, and your mood will lift.

“Talk to people at the coffee pot. Ask about their families,” Art Seratelli encourages. The key is to move beyond chatter about the workplace, although talking about the workplace can be a great place to start.

connection in the workplace insights

Be Helpful

Look for opportunities to serve, help, and reach out to others. A traditional Jewish philosophy, tikun olam, encourages followers to heal and improve the world however they can. Adopt a similar philosophy to guide your workplace interactions. If you see someone struggling on a project and you have a few minutes to spare, offer to review the plan or provide feedback. 

If someone is carrying multiple boxes into the building, why not be the person who opens the door or offers help carrying the items?

“You can always ask someone how they are doing today. Maybe there is something you can do to help them,” Dr. Lindner suggests.

Another way to be helpful and build connections at the same time is to volunteer with your colleagues.

“Volunteer at a nonprofit and ask colleagues to get involved with an upcoming event or support a specific initiative,” says Dr. Lindner. When you volunteer, you typically work side-by-side with people and inevitably get to know them over tasks like walking dogs, preparing meals, or planning fundraisers. Regardless of the task, you will build a permanent, genuine connection with your fellow volunteers. You’ll bring that newfound sense of connection in the workplace, and that will help you gain a greater sense of belonging at work.

What If You STILL Feel Disconnected?

What if you try these tips and still feel lonely, disconnected, and isolated at work? You may want to consider two possibilities.

First, you may be working in a toxic work environment that is not very conducive to belonging and inclusion. If you’ve tried implementing these suggestions and see no results, you may consider talking to your mentor about ways to address this issue with your employer or whether a new workplace would promote your own wellbeing and sense of belonging.

Secondly, if your level of loneliness and disconnection hinders your job performance, check into your employer’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to see if you can pursue counseling or therapy. Or you may consider seeking help from a life coach or career coach instead if you feel the problem is strictly related to the workplace.

Whatever you do, don’t give up. Fostering real connections provides huge benefits to your sense of belonging, career fulfillment, and career success. Pursue a genuine connection in the workplace relentlessly, and you will see positive results.

Bethany Wallace
Bethany Wallace
Bethany Wallace partners with mission-minded organizations to build better workplaces through soft skills solutions. Bethany aids leaders in strengthening workplace relationships through communications consulting, training, executive coaching, keynote presentations, & career coaching. Bethany enjoys presenting research at conferences and contributes regularly to major publications & recognized podcasts, including Glassdoor, College Recruiter, Zip Recruiter, Jobscan, FlexJobs, the New York Daily News, BusinessTech, Human Resources Online, Life After Teaching, Love Your Story, The Conversation Guy (10 Minute Mindset), Everyday People Podcast, The Success Chronicles, and more.

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