The Hidden Energy Of Meaningful Connection At Work

The Challenge: Workplaces have become a place of transaction devoid of human moments.

The Science: Brief, meaningful moments of connection significantly improve the culture.

The Solution:  Making room for compassion and vulnerability at work boosts productivity.

Which of the following best describes your situation?

My job is…

a)   Rewarding

b)   Okay

c)   Slowly crushing my soul

The sad fact is that too many of us are checking the “soul-crushing” box. According to a Gallup poll, this number has remained stagnant for years. If you are amongst the over 70% of employees who feel unmotivated and disengaged at work, you know what I am talking about.  Unfortunately, there is a major disconnect between what people want to experience at work and what they actually feel on a daily basis. Why are we so stuck? How can we make our workplaces feel less suffocating and more uplifting? According to recent science, the answer to a fulfilling workplace is feeling cared about and being a part of a communal team effort. Research shows that our productivity flourishes when we’re encouraged us to express emotions like compassion, caring, and affection. Emotional and relational warmth impacts every aspect of the workplace milieu: staff attitudes, team chemistry, and overall performance.

The Quiet Force

We often conflate being busy and accomplishing tasks with being truly effective at work.   Agendas, to-do lists, and backlogged inboxes draw every ounce of our energy. But when we choose to focus on those things, we miss out on a critical part of the equation: the powerful force of connection. Meaningful connection comes from the heart and is intricately linked to feelings of belonging and acceptance. Meaningful relationships at work can drive every important gauge of success: engagement, well-being, and financial outcomes.

Often, when people talk about their work, what they are really talking about are mere mechanics, the “what” or “head” component of their job. For example, if you are talking with a recruiter, they might tell you about company benefits, flexible schedules, and advancement. These aspects of the job are important, but they are only part of the story.

The often overlooked yet equally critical ingredient is the relational and emotional part –i.e., the “how” or “heart.” This pertains, in large part, to our means of relating to one another and especially to simple, quick interactions.  Recall a time when you offered a warm glance of understanding when someone was having a crappy day or high-fived a teammate after finishing a project.  These micro-expressions of caring, affection, and vulnerability are a powerful, hidden energy behind meaning, connection, and efficacy in our work lives.

Unfortunately, caring interaction often tends to be pooh-poohed. Plenty of people might even tell you to check your emotions at the door before coming to work. Mostly, our communication tends to be transactional and devoid of meaningful connection.  You know what it’s like – almost no eye contact and even less conversation about how you are really doing. Multiply those transactions over the course of days and weeks, and it is easy to see why many feel drained and disconnected and how negativity spreads. If you work in an environment like this, chances are you feel cynical, and there is a higher likelihood you’ll experience burnout and depression, too.

The Force At Work

For contrast, consider the following account from a nurse, which anecdotally illustrates the power of warmth in a workplace.

“My patient had just come back from surgery and was in a lot of pain, so I grabbed her doctor in the hall. I knew he was busy seeing patients, but he stopped what he was doing and really listened to me. I guess what struck me – it was the real deal… genuine. He really showed compassion. The amazing thing about working with this guy is you feel the caring by his eyes, his body language.”

Note the genuine warmth of the conversation between the nurse and doctor.  The exchange only lasted about five minutes, yet it was able to flip the switch after a tough experience and create new positive energy and optimism. The conversation also yielded important outcomes for everyone involved, especially the patient. The nurse also told others about her positive interaction, thereby amplifying the impact and spreading the camaraderie through her social networks. When staff members connect with one another meaningfully, the interactions are life-giving rather than life-depleting.

The Big Takeaway

Offer genuine caring and notice how it changes the energy in meetings or conversations. Spread the care with simple, authentic, outwardly visible expressions. You’ll find that this is one of the most powerful ways to build a work culture everyone will want to be a part of.  To create a team or culture where you feel connected, try these simple practices:

  1.  Ask a colleague how they are really doing. Don’t forget to pause to listen!
  2.  Amp up your office gratitude and appreciate someone new every day. Tell them what you love about working with them!  
  3.  Take a coffee break with a co-worker, and make it a point not to talk about work!
Ann Petry
Ann Petry is a is a contributing author of the forthcoming book: Advancing Relationship-Based Cultures. She is a positive organizational development consultant, writer and speaker. Recently, she graduated with distinction from Case Western Reserve University Master of Positive Organizational Development program (MPOD). She works with CHCM.com, a healthcare consulting firm and is passionate about cultivating resilient, mindful, emotionally intelligent teams who improve their own, their clients, and their organizations’ performance and wellbeing. You can connect with her on twitter @annpetry or https://www.linkedin.com/in/annpetry
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