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Social Wellbeing: Human Connection Matters


“Other people matter.” Christopher Peterson

Human connection matters. It not only makes us happier and less stressed but also creates an environment in which our longevity is likely to be extended.

In one of Harvard's longest standing longitudinal studies (spanning 80 years+), researchers found that: "close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives.... Those ties protect people from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes."

Unfortunately, we live in a time where there is an erosion of empathy and compassion (Goleman, 2013). We are an over-worked, over-stressed, overwhelmed society drawn to the incessant lure of technology; the negative impact on our presence and relationships is far-reaching.

Despite being ‘hardwired to connect’ as Matthew Lieberman explains in his book Social, our hardwiring also predisposes us to initially move away from others when we first meet or when we are placed into a new social situation. Why does this happen? According to neuroscientist Evian Gordon we have a minimise danger, maximise reward network which prompts us to move towards rewards and away from threats. On top of this network, our negativity bias kicks in and responds to new situations/people as threatening.

This constant vigilance is taxing on our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) placing us into SNS dominance. SNS dominance leads to a steady release of cortisol (and other stress hormones), which in the long-term can damage our hippocampus (area in the brain for spatial memory and learning) and lead to stress-induced illness. It can also lead to a significant decrease in our productivity.

Social well-being is a differentiator for organisations. It has been linked with improvements in engagement, productivity and overall well-being.What are a few things leaders & organisations can do to elevate social well-being?

  1. Encourage social contribution ( IE. volunteer days, community projects and workplace giving).

  2. Create common goals for teams to strive for with underlying core company values (social integration and coherence).

  3. Promote social acceptance (tolerance of differences and diversity).

  4. Create opportunities for team bonding (something fun!)

  5. Establish a mentorship program

Gallup Polled 15 million workers and found that individuals are 7x as likely to be engaged in their work if they had high quality friendships on the job.

Furthermore, leaders who demonstrate empathy and compassion raise the degree of social well-being across the entire organisation. People need to feel they are understood, appreciated and accepted. Empathy and compassion satisfy each of these needs.

But what can you do as an individual to positively engage with others?

  1. Limit your technology & social media (put rituals in place to break the bad habit).

  2. Meditate (increasing your focus will increase your presence).

  3. Savour your positive experiences (happier people make better connections with others).

Our brains are social organs, they thrive on human connection. Understanding how to link social well-being with organisational imperatives is key to the sustainability and performance of any organisation. It's also the key to personal fulfilment and happiness.

Kirsten works with individuals & organisations on well-being, engagement and performance initiatives. Contact her today to tap into the potential!

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