Applauz Blog

6 Easy Ways to Foster Employee Connections (without It Feeling Forced)

  4 min read

By: Michelle Cadieux

If getting your teams and people to connect organically has proven difficult, you might need an entirely different approach.

Have you ever felt your attempts at creating employee connections feel forced at best and awkward at worse? 

You put effort into planning an activity or event and allotting a budget, only to have a few people show up and leave before 7 pm. How about encouraging people to talk about something a little more personal, only to be met with tense grins on the other end?

These challenges could lead you to give up. You might think, “maybe our employees just don’t want to be social at work.”

But research suggests that is likely not the case; many people report feeling lonely at work and want connection. So maybe leaders are going about it the wrong way.

The benefits of connection are undeniable

Gallup research shows strong connections lead to lower safety incidents, more engaged customers and higher profits. The benefits are clear.

Despite this, few people say they have a close friend at work. The same data shows that only 2 out of 10 U.S. employees strongly agree they have a best friend at work.

You can’t force people to like each other. But you can create an environment that naturally allows these connections to flourish. You must first acknowledge the invisible barriers that stand in the way, like the unspoken norms that run your workplace or the innate discomfort some people may have about being sociable at work.

The following steps will get to the root of the issue, help clear the path, and offer people a way to connect that feels more organic and natural rather than calculated and forced. Hopefully, this approach will spark strong relationships, leading to closer, happier, and more productive teams.

6 Easy Ways to Foster Employee Connections (Without It Feeling Forced)

Do it for them, not for you

Are you trying to foster connections for your team's benefit or yours? Be honest. Are you halfheartedly going through the motions of these activities and events "because it's what companies are supposed to do," or do you create experiences tailored to your unique team or employees?

If you are throwing together a generic activity you copy-pasted from another business, or if there is a lack of purpose or goal, employees will sense it on some level. As a result, they will be less motivated to participate.

When people feel these initiatives have a clear purpose and are tailored for their benefit, they will be much more likely to participate. It seems like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised by how often leaders fail to cater these events and activities to their employees.

Start small to build trust

Friendships in the “real” world take time to build. It’s a slow, organic process. People must slowly learn to build trust and closeness by opening up to each other. It takes time to build confidence between people.

The same happens at work; you can’t expect to throw 2-3 social events yearly, and people become best friends. These things take time to develop. 

The workplace context adds a layer of complexity, as people may be weary of opening up to their peers.

Some people may believe that they cannot fully trust those around them or that the information they share may be used against them. Sadly, some people have had these bad experiences in the workplace.

So when trying to initiate new ways to foster connections, the best approach is to start small, especially if these types of programs are foreign in your workplace. Humans are brilliantly adaptable, but they are also resistant to change. So start with baby steps, and your chances of success are much more likely.

Explain the reason behind these initiatives

When people are used to operating a certain way, you can't come in and try to change the norms overnight. People will be hesitant to adopt new ways of working if they don't understand why change is happening.

For example, if you want to animate your meetings by including ice-breaker questions to get people talking more personally, it would be wise first to introduce the new initiative. Don't just show up to your meeting and launch into ice-breaker questions without explaining why you're doing this or what you're trying to accomplish. Always communicate first.

In short, you want to warm people up to this new idea. And most importantly, explain the reason or rationale behind this new practice. People respond better to new habits or practices when they understand why you are doing them rather than feeling like they are being pressured to change. 

Incorporate activities that break the ice

If you put a bunch of people who barely know each other in a drab room with a few fizzy drinks and expect them to mix and mingle, you're setting yourself up for failure. 

Not everyone is super outgoing and extroverted. And many people have anxiety about meeting new people. But remember, that doesn't mean they are totally allergic to socializing.

Most people want connection; they just need it to be facilitated.

As such, it's always best to punctuate gatherings with a few structured activities. These activities should break people into groups they don't usually interact with. Once people have warmed up to each other, mixing and mingling will feel a lot less daunting.

Launch a “social connection” challenge

If planned events have been unsuccessful, why not allow employees to mingle and socialize on their terms? And providing them with a little incentive to do so.

At Applauz, we did just this with our teams. In the context of our Monthly Wellness Challenges, the CEO of Applauz challenged our teams of remote employees to get together for lunch.

In the challenge, any employees who met for lunch would earn one “lunch point.” The company even covered the cost of lunch! At the end of the challenge, the points were tallied, and the people who attended the most lunches won Applauz Points

It was a huge success for our company. Every single employee participated and even attended multiple lunches. As a result, it proves that people do indeed want to be social; they just need a little incentive to do so.

Initiate job shadowing

Job shadowing is an initiative that kills two birds with one stone. This type of program is a great tactic for fostering career development and learning within your culture as it allows employees to learn about the day-to-day of other departments and disciplines within your business. In short, it’s a great learning experience for people, which can be a key function of employee engagement

But the benefit of job shadowing extends even further. It’s an ideal way to get people from different parts of the company to communicate and mingle in a non-forced environment. In the best-case scenario, you may even be initiating a mentor-mentee relationship that will be enriching for both people involved. 

Final Thoughts

With so many waking hours spent at work, having someone to commiserate with can help provide a huge buffer against stress and anxiety. When people are frustrated, oftentimes, they just want their struggles to be heard and acknowledged. Close friends at work can provide that.

Despite this, the workplace is inherently fraught with power dynamics, politics, and ideas about how people “should” act.

In other words, plenty of invisible obstacles stand in the way for leaders who want to help facilitate these relationships. But with a little bit of time and effort, you can slowly build trust between people and create an atmosphere that naturally fosters these types of connections. And ultimately enable the kinds of relationships that make work happier for everybody.

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