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What is the role of social wellbeing at work in keeping staff happy, productivity and in position?

Workplace Wellbeing: The importance of social wellbeing and inclusivity in the workplace

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Today, we’re talking about social wellbeing, the importance of workplace inclusivity, and the role these things play in employee engagement, productivity and retention. If you’d like to know more, have a look at our previous articles on the physical, mental and financial aspects of workplace wellbeing.

Put simply, social wellbeing is a measure of an employee’s interpersonal relationships both in and outside of work. In the workplace, it is relationships with coworkers, interactions with management, and a sense of belonging within the business as a whole. Outside of work, it’s time spent with friends and family, and the ability to commit to social engagements without fear of it clashing with work. Social connections are extremely important, not just for wellbeing, but productivity too. For example, as per this Havard Business Review article people with best friends at work are up to seven times more likely to be engaged than those without.

The damaging effects of poor social wellbeing

A study of 2,000 UK workers found that 31% were kept awake at night due to anxiety over interactions with colleagues, while 25% couldn’t sleep because of worry over relationships with people they cared about.

But what really makes this information interesting is how it contrasts with the study’s other findings. It found that social concerns were seen as more stressful than health issues (19%) and debt (20%). Almost a fifth (17%) ranked lifestyle (holidays, socialising, eating out, etc.) as their highest personal priority. This shows that a sense of belonging in the workplace and having a good work/life balance is a key factor in making sure employees are happy and productive.

Is social wellbeing a ‘Millennial/Gen-Z thing’?

Social wellbeing appears to be more of a concern for younger people. Over a quarter of employees aged 18-24 rated socialising as more of a priority than physical fitness, compared to less than a fifth of 35-44 year-olds and only a tenth of employees over the age of 55. While this may be generational, it could also stem from the simple fact that older people generally have more reason to be concerned about their physical wellbeing and often less time for socialising.

Improve social wellbeing at work by setting up special interest groups or organising group activities.
Special interest groups, such as book clubs, can be a great incentive for building social wellbeing at work. Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash

However, the personal emphasis many people place on their social wellbeing is unsurprising when you consider how damaging loneliness can be to an individual. The group Campaign to End Loneliness recently compiled an array of statistical evidence on the effects of loneliness. Some key points include:

  • Loneliness increases the likelihood of mortality by 26%.
  • Social isolation is as damaging to someone’s health as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day.
  • Loneliness increases the risk of both cognitive decline and depression.
  • Lonely people could be much more likely to develop dementia in later life.
  • The likelihood of loneliness is significantly correlated with age

Improving social wellbeing in the workplace

It’s important to have a sense of social cohesion at work. It helps employees when they feel like part of a larger whole. While too many meetings can be bad for productivity, the occasional face-to-face gathering to go over objectives and recent developments can help make staff feel more involved, appreciated and ‘seen’.

Running or sponsoring social activities is another great way to help your workforce connect with each other, while also giving them an opportunity to relax. This could be anything from an office party to group activities like paintball, lunchtime quizzes or charity days. It can also be a good idea to support the formation of special interest or support groups, such as book clubs or exercise groups.  These can pay dividends for your organisation in terms of loyalty and engagement as well as offer up other wellbeing benefits and even personal development opportunities. 

The role of inclusivity in boosting social wellbeing

The UK workforce is also a lot more diverse than it was even a decade or two ago, although it can vary by industry or sector (for example, see our piece here on the UK legal sector). More employees than ever are female, LGBTQ or BAME. 

As such, an increasingly important part of improving social wellbeing at work is ensuring that your organisational culture is welcoming to everyone. Acknowledge and discuss unconscious biases, and offer diversity and anti-bias training where appropriate. Activism and support groups for BAME or LGBTQ issues can also help employees from diverse backgrounds connect to other people with similar experiences, and find the workplace support they need.

Why the right work-life balance matters

The other side of social wellbeing in the workplace is that of work-life balance. We all have obligations and things we want to do that don’t involve work or our colleagues, after all. If an employee feels they are constantly failing to uphold social obligations because of their job, their motivation and productivity will inevitably suffer as a result. To support the social wellbeing of your staff, take steps to help them balance their work commitments and social obligations.

Work-life balance is a key pillar of social wellbeing.
It’s all about balance! Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

Despite employers being required to grant a certain amount of holiday time for their staff, it isn’t unheard of for employees to feel guilty about taking time off. This can be due to commitments at work (doctors can often stress over taking time off for fear of what might happen to their patients, for example) or a workplace culture that encourages overwork. It can help to highlight your organisation’s holiday policy and encourage staff to use their allotted time off.

Are flexible working practices the solution to a better work-life balance?

Another way to help staff manage their work-life balance is to develop and promote flexible working arrangements. For example, staff will be better able to manage out-of-work social engagements if they have the ability to work non-standard office hours. Some organisations, such as Plymouth-based law firm Portcullis Legals, even offer condensed workweeks where staff can choose to work ten-hour shifts four days a week, as opposed to the traditional eight-hour shifts five days a week. 

While not all types of flexible working will be suitable for every business, It is quickly becoming standard practice to offer at least some options for working flexibly.

An ever-growing number of our clients here at Weekly10 are implementing a range of flexible work processes. With a greater focus on staff wellbeing, questions around human working habits on the environment and the impact of events such as the spread of COVID-19, flexible working will only continue to rise. 

Whatever your approach, the social wellbeing of employees needs to be a focus for all businesses in 2020 and beyond.

If you’re using or considering implementing flexible working practices, why not check-out how Weekly10 can build & keep engagement, performance and motivation sky-high?

Research Associate