New York Times bestselling author, serial entrepreneur, Fortune 500 consultant, start-up advisor and Research Director of the Future Workplace report, Dan Schwabel knows a thing or two about business. In fact, he states his mission in life is to support his generation from student to CEO –something his latest book is sure to help him achieve.
Released this week, Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation is based on a wealth of Schwabel’s own research, featuring the perspectives of over 2,000 managers and employees across different age groups and over ten countries, including the US, UK, China and Brazil. During his investigation, the career guru discovered a reoccurring theme in every workplace – a lack of human interaction. And the effect it seemed to have? The less connected an employee felt with their co-workers, the more likely they were to be disengaged in their work. They were also more inclined to leave the company sooner in search of a new position (as Schwabel puts it, there’s truth to the old saying, “People don’t leave jobs, they leave managers”).
Schwabel says his findings were especially true for millennials, who frequently said they consider their manager as their ‘work parent’ and their co-workers their ‘work family’. But he believes it’s an issue seriously impacting everyone due to the trend for long office hours and increasingly blurred lines between work and play – today, it’s estimated workers spends a third of their lives in the office.
“As the average workweek continues to expand, between the demands of the new economy and our always-on culture, we can no longer be fulfilled without befriending our colleagues,” Schwabel explains. “Our basic human need for friendship gives us the sense of belonging, purpose, confidence and satisfaction that we crave – yet we often overlook our fellow co-workers as friends because we try to separate our needs in the office from those at home.”
He also puts the lack of face-to-face contact down to our increasing reliance on technology to communicate with one another – something he says is giving us the illusion we’re more connected, when in fact it’s quite the opposite. “Technology enables a lot of effective, efficient processes in the workplace – but at what cost?” he asks readers. “The more isolated employees feel from their boss and colleagues, the less engaged – and, in turn, less productive – they become.”
While completely ditching email and instant messages for in-person chats is hardly realistic, considering studies have shown that mere moments of conversation between co-workers is enough to boost performance by up to 20%, it’s no surprise Schwabel has predicted a focus on human interaction will be one of the biggest workplace trends in 2019. IBM, Apple and Google are already pushing the tactic, and all three companies agree that when employees bump into each other in physical environments, it sparks creativity and relationship-building that’s so crucial for work output.
As for the rest of us yet to benefit from new initiatives, Schwabel has shared his top tips for bolstering relationships with colleagues below…
Assess The Scale Of The Problem
Firstly, Schwabel advises taking a quick online text – his Work Connectivity Index. Taking around 15 minutes to complete, it’s an academic assessment that measures the strength of the current relationships you have with your teammates, giving you a good sense of how connected you really are.
Focus On Work-Life ‘Integration’, Not Balance
In Back to Human, you’ll often find Schwabel mentioning what he calls the ‘work-life balance myth’ – instead, he believes we should consider ‘work-life integration’, which he describes as our ability to ensure that our personal and business interests are both incorporated into our daily routines; putting us in full control of how we allocate our time.
“Part of the idea behind the book is that people should bring their whole self to work, not just their business self,” he explains. Along with embracing flexible working policies and taking part in workplace social events when possible, Schwaber says that moving from ‘What do you do?’ conversations with co-workers to deeper discussions about your personal life is key to achieving integration (only when both parties are comfortable, that is).
Schedule Face-To-Face Meetings Where Possible
As studies have shown, one face-to-face meeting can be more successful and powerful than 34 emails exchanged back and forth. And not only can this digital ping-pong match lead to wasted office hours, Schwaber says people often feel misunderstood without a real human response in front of them to gauge. “The more important conversations, such as conflicts at work, should always happen in person instead of through text, or social networking, or email,” he stresses.
And when you are in that meeting, he also recommends that all attendees put their phones in the middle of the table to ensure they’re fully present.
Ask For & Give Feedback More Often
“What I pushed forward in the book is to praise people publicly,” Schwaber says of Back to Human. “Recognising personal and professional successes with in-person celebrations is what people want on a more consistent basis – especially young people.”
He also says that offering critical feedback as a senior team member – or asking for it more often if you’re lower down the ladder – helps employees learn and grow: “It’s so important see what they’re doing right and wrong, so that they can correct that or do more of the good stuff – the things that are actually going to be beneficial to the workplace.”
Strengthen Your Skills In Empathy
There’s a whole chapter dedicated to empathy in Schwaber’s new tome. “It seems that one of the things lacking in society and the workplace is being able to really see where people are coming from – not just sympathising with them, but gaining a deeper understanding of what they’re going through in their personal and working lives,” he explains.
“Try and sit with them and have these discussions – these critical and difficult conversations – because it’s usually in crisis where the stronger bonds are formed.”
Find Small Ways To Increase Connectivity
“Workplace happiness depends largely on a sense of belonging, so find small ways to increase the amount of two-way, real-time interaction in your working week,” Schwaber says. “Grab a coffee with your co-worker, schedule a regular one-on-one with your manager, and if your boss has an open-door policy – make use of it.”
And as for what to steer clear of: “Avoid situations where you deliver a one-sided message or where people can check out too easily – emails and texts may seem like two-sided communication, but the asynchronous nature of it actually removes the level of engagement necessary for relationship building.”
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