Connection is a key to employee engagement because we connect with our organizations through the people with whom we work, the mission and values of the organization, and the work we perform. Our work and our company are a part of who we are. The job, then, becomes more than just a set of tasks we perform.
When employees find connection, they work as a team, generate ideas, solve problems, take care of customers, and act with the organization’s best interests in mind. They’re proud of where they work and what they do, and they’re quick to share their experiences with others. They are fully invested. Employees become ambassadors for the organization—they see themselves as part of the organization, and others see the organization through the eyes of the employees. Leaders understand that employees aren’t just part of the company—they are the brand.
Why is Connection Important in the Workplace?
Connection is one of those under-utilized elements of the Engagement MAGIC keys. We always think about having meaning in our jobs, about the having an impact, about continuing to grow; but we don’t typically think about connection. Do I have a connection with the company? Does the company have a connection with me?
Having a trusted advisor or confidant is, for me, the essence of connection. There is nothing, in my mind, lonelier than spending 8-10+ hours at work each day and not having some type of connection, whether it’s personal, social or with the organization.
Having a Confidant at Work
Does it matter if I have a best friend at work? Some would say no, but for me, having someone with whom you can trust and connect is significant. In my case, I have a preference to introversion, however, even as someone who prefers introversion, I thrive on having someone that I can go to in the organization.
I remember when I was working at a company, one of my co-workers and I developed a wonderful relationship. We started around the same time and had both moved to a new city. The company was having a lot of problems at the time. They were not making money, which resulted in massive layoffs. There was a feeling of fear and doubt of our survival.
Through this difficult time, it was nice to have a confidant at work a few desks away. While working on several key initiatives, we would grab lunch, bounce ideas off each other, talk about what we were hearing from others, and how we were going to manage through the challenges. Neither of us were caught up in the reductions and we could talk opening about our concerns. Having that connection was absolutely essential.
Comparing that to my experience with another company where I worked, which had a culture of introversion. At first, I thought I would fit really well inside this company, but I had just the opposite experience. All the engineers would keep their doors closed. You’d walk in these buildings with thousands of employees and it was very quiet. I would think to myself, “Who am I going to talk to today? Am I going to interact with anybody?”
I remember having a conversation and casually mentioning, “Hey, should we just do that over lunch?” His response was, “No, that’s my time and I don’t want to.” It was really difficult to build any type of relationship in that company compared to my previous experiences.
Now I’m not saying that you have to have a best friend or you have to go to parties after work and always be social. You have to have a life outside of work. But for me, having someone at work that can be trusted and with whom I can have conversations, is extremely important.
Values and Connection
At DecisionWise, we talk about engagement as a 50-50 proposition: 50 percent of the responsibility lies with the organization and 50 percent lies with the individual. Part of the value the organization can bring is clearly stating its values and giving employees the chance to align with those values. But more importantly, the company needs to demonstrate those values.
One company I worked with, there was a disconnect between its demonstrated values and my personal values. This caused a significant enough strain on the relationship that it was no longer a good fit for me. The decision to leave was not an emotional decision; it was actually quite refreshing.
By comparison, my first job, working for Marriott Hotels, was an absolutely wonderful experience from a cultural alignment and values alignment standpoint. It was very emotional when I left. I had wonderful friends that I have stayed in contact for many years, whereas with the other company, I have not remained in contact with anyone.
So, when we think of an organization’s value proposition, employees must understand their own values and how they align with the company. The company needs to have policies, practices, and procedures that would make the employee want to stay.
Personality and Company Culture Fit
We often talk about having a good fit with your job; connection is one of those elements where fit is absolutely critical. The key question to ask yourself is, “Do I fit within that cultural construct that allows me to bring my whole self to work in a way that says, ‘yes, I’m really connected with the company and the company is really connected with me?’”
For me, although I have a preference for introversion, I can’t work in my office alone all-day long. I have to get out and talk to people, not necessarily for the social interaction but for the thought connection. I need somebody to bounce off an idea. Having that connection adds tremendous value. At the end of it, I’m able to say: “I just helped somebody, or they just helped me,” which creates another kind of the intimate connection.
Regardless of whether your company has preference for introversion or extroversion, there are interactions that are critical in making a connection. These connections happen with idea generation, problem solving, or simply having a supporting confidant during a challenging time. Having a company culture style different from your personality type isn’t necessarily an inhibitor to connection; you just need to understand how to navigate through it.
Should I Stay, or Should I Go?
For those that are thinking of moving from one company to another company, remember it is much harder to leave friends than it is casual acquaintances. When we have someone at work that we would consider a friend, there is an emotional reaction when we leave an organization, which is an indicator of the connections you’ve made at work. Connection takes time and can transcend organizational boundaries.
An Environment for Connection
When I was living in the suburbs of Chicago, I had a three-hour commute to and from work every day. I would spend the first hour and a half on the train–I’d leave my house around 6:00 in the morning so I could be in my office in downtown Chicago at 7:30. During that train ride I created a task list for everything that I was going to do for the day so by the time I got to work, I was ready to roll. I would head straight into my office and start working immediately because I mentally had already begun work while sitting on the train.
Well, there were members of my office staff that lived in downtown Chicago who had a five-minute commute. They would come into the office, start talking to each other, grab their cups of coffee and have this social interaction before they get ready to do the work. The feedback I received as a manager from my employees was, “it sure would be nice if you would just walk into the office sometime and say ‘hi, how are you?’ and grab a cup of coffee with us before we get started in the morning.” It was great feedback from my staff on the different types of connections that they wanted. I was ready to go and they needed more of a warm up; an interaction.
I still arrive early at the office, but now when my team arrives, I walk out of my office and have a conversation with my team or I’ll stand outside an employee’s cube and just talk. Not to waste time, but to create a connection. I would encourage us all to remember the power of connection and the value that it can have in association with all of the other elements of Engagement MAGIC.
Listen to the podcast recording on connection.
Further Reading: How Do You Find Connection In Your Job?
Consider surveying your employees to see how meaning is impacting overall engagement.