How to add the human connection to your teams, your culture and your business

By Brent Pearson

How many HR and business leaders are seriously thinking about how they are going to deal with the significant talent shortage? I would argue that they are not nearly enough.

Let’s review the numbers. US employers added more than 517,000 jobs in January 2023 (more than three times more than expected), with the unemployment rate at 3.4%, a 50-year low. In addition, Baby Boomers are retiring and the growth rate of the working-age population is largely unchanged.

In addition, we navigate the engagement and retention challenges that come with an increasingly remote and hybrid workforce. Gallup data shows all modes of employment.

While there’s not much you can do about these macroeconomic and demographic trends, there are strategies you can implement to create a work environment where people are less likely to leave.

Connection as your North Star

Human connection is one of the most effective yet underrated strategies at your disposal. Think of all the ways companies are throwing money at the retention problem in the form of on-site bonuses, compensation adjustments, and lavish perks. None of these costly “strategies” actually increase engagement or long-term loyalty.

What people crave is real connection with their peers and managers. McKinsey found that 46% of employees cite an unfulfilled desire to work with people who trust and care about each other as a reason for leaving. Our latest report with RedThread Research confirms how important communication is to your business. Organizations with more connections are 5.4 times more agile, 3.2 times more likely to have satisfied customers, and 2.3 times more likely to have engaged employees.

What is the connection? and No

Communication is about finding commonality and having a shared experience. In an increasingly digital workplace, you might think you’re very connected at your company just by looking at your messaging and communications technology stack. But that’s a false approach. Messaging tools are good for collaboration, but they are not communication tools. They make it easy to start a conversation, but to make a real human connection, you need to be more systematic in your approach.

Here are some tips to get you started.

Get personal

Despite the importance companies once placed on free snacks and foosball tables, office perks aren’t what employees really miss when they’re telecommuting. Sixty percent say spontaneous interactions with employees are the number one benefit of being in the office. Nearly two-thirds say their colleagues and peers are the biggest influence in helping them feel connected.

If you want to create a human connection, you have to embrace the personal so people can find commonalities and share experiences. At our most recent company, we brought together all employees in person for the first time in three years. Since most of us have only ever interacted on a screen, we wanted to be very intentional about making a connection. We’ve created a networking competition using our new People Cards where everyone shares a little-known fact about themselves. We generated over 6000 links within 24 hours.

But you don’t have to be in person to be personal. Make sure you embrace the big and small moments—celebrate marriages, birthdays, and other personal milestones and achievements. No matter where an employee sits in the organization, make sure they get the same experience and level of connectivity by using automated workflows and prompts they can act on.

Those little touches pay off. Employees with strong workplace friendships are seven times more likely to be engaged in their work, engage better with customers and produce better quality work, Gallup notes.

Wow, your new hires!

But you need to ensure that the connection starts even before the first date. And in this regard, the status quo clearly does not work. Up to 20% of new hires leave within 45 days.

To overcome that trend, your organization can send automated communications to new hires to make their introduction to your company hyper-personalized. Learn as much as you can about your new hires and show them you’re listening. Ask everyone what’s for lunch at 3pm and make sure the first day’s snack is sitting on the desk. Imagine how you like your coffee in a pre-boarding questionnaire, and then your manager makes it exactly the way you like it on day one.

These gestures show you care, but they’re not just polite. With proper employee onboarding, you can reduce first-year turnover by 50%. This retention rate pays dividends. An employee with stellar work experience becomes a brand ambassador, which helps attract better applicants, leading to lower recruitment costs and lower employee turnover.

Create a cross-functional link

Many teams have developed effective strategies for connecting with each other. Where we often see silos is between different teams and functional groups within the same company.

One way to create those cross-functional connections is through mentoring. These programs can have a huge impact on your learning endeavors; 71% of employees say that in order to learn something new or change their way of thinking, they need to talk to someone about it.

Pair mentors and mentees of different ages and experience levels for maximum impact. Then make sure they stick to the plan by using technology to send reminders and prompts for potential discussion topics.

Empower your leaders!

You can’t deny the ripple effect a manager has on company culture, both positive and negative. Gallup research shows that line managers account for up to 70% of the variance in employee engagement. And it’s putting pressure on managers who already feel overwhelmed, with 50% saying they struggle to develop human connections among a more remote workforce.

Help your managers look like rock stars with reminders that give them timely reminders for regular check-ins, feedback, and praise. For some leaders, managing people is intuitive. they may not need coaching. But for most managers, it either doesn’t come naturally, or they’re so busy they forget the basics, or worse, they forget about their remote workers.

This principle really comes to life through learning. With employees sitting at 2x the speed of individual learning management system videos, you can make learning a connected experience. Managers can set up employees with friends so they can apply real-time learning together. Learning can be more of a team sport, and it helps build more threads of communication within your organization.

These are just a few ways you can make human connection a competitive advantage in your organization. You can’t control external factors like the job market and demographic trends, but you can choose to create a culture of engagement and belonging. And with technology, you can help your people form the connections they want. Together you will grow.

Learn more about how you can drive performance, engagement and commitment with better human connections.

Brent Pearson is the founder and CEO of Enboarder.

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