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    Beyond Employee Mental Health - Supporting Social Wellness at Work

    There's no denying it; human beings are social animals. Just like wolves or dolphins, we are wired to connect and interact with others. And while we may not live in packs or pods, the need for social connection is just as strong. Our need for social connection and feeling part of a community is so strong that it can impact our physical and mental health. That's why social wellness is becoming an increasingly important part of corporate wellness programs.  Let's take a look at what your business can do to enhance the social wellness of your employees and how that can positively affect their mental health and overall well-being.

    What Is Social Wellness and Why Is it Important?

    Social wellness is all about our relationships with others and how those relationships make us feel. It's about feeling connected, being a part of a community or social group, and having a solid support system. At work, this means building and maintaining positive relationships with co-workers, bosses, and others in your professional life. According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, a key aspect of modern psychology regarding the understanding of human motivation, social connection is one of our most basic needs, right after our physiological and safety needs. So, it makes sense that when we don't have it, we start to feel lonely, isolated, and stressed.

    Research has shown that social isolation can harm our health in several ways. It can increase our risk for anxiety and depression, make us more susceptible to illness, and even shorten our life span. Conversely, strong social relationships have been associated with better mental and physical health, lower rates of anxiety and depression, faster healing from illness, and longevity. Social wellness is essential, both for our health and for the health of our organizations. That's why many companies are beginning to focus on social wellness as part of their corporate wellness and benefits programs.

    How to Support Social Wellness at Work

    There are many ways businesses can support social wellness among their employees. To start, it's crucial to create a culture of connection. This means cultivating an environment where employees feel comfortable interacting and building relationships.

    Some tips for employers looking to build a strong social wellness culture in their workplace include:

    • Creating opportunities for social interaction outside of the office. This can include company-sponsored happy hours, team-building activities, or employee lunches where they can gather and socialize.
    • Creating space to socialize in the workplace. This can be as simple as adding couches or coffee stations in common areas or providing employees access to a break room or kitchen.
    • Encouraging employees to connect. This can be accomplished by creating social media groups, setting up mentorship programs, or organizing company-wide events, such as a sports challenge.
    • Making sure employees feel like they belong. A sense of belonging is an integral part of social wellness. Employees need to feel like they are part of a team and are valued members of the organization. You can start by ensuring employees feel like they have a voice in the company, providing opportunities for career growth, and offering recognition and rewards for contributions. A strong commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion is also key for all employees to feel this sense of belonging. Many employers encourage the use of ERGs, or Employee Resource Groups to help with this.

    It's essential that, in addition to providing the space and opportunities to interact, leaders encourage their employees to take breaks and step away from their work. This can help prevent burnout and allow team members to feel comfortable taking the time to connect with others.

    While some activities may require a budget and time off from work, such as a corporate retreat, there are many simple things that HR and managers can do to support social wellness that don't have a cost, like starting a conversation or organizing a potluck lunch. However, it's not all up to human resources. As an employee, you can also do many things to support your social wellness at work.

    • Try to get to know your co-workers. Take the time to learn about their interests, families, and what they like to do outside work.
    • Join a company social committee or volunteer for company-sponsored events. This is a great way to get to know people from different departments and levels within the organization.
    • Attend social events outside of work. Anything from going to a happy hour to joining a sports team or taking a class can be helpful.
    • Make time for lunch. Taking a break to have lunch with co-workers is a great way to connect with people and build relationships.
    • Reach out if you're feeling isolated. If you feel lonely or like you're not part of the team, reach out to a friend or co-worker. It's vital to ask for help if you need it before social isolation turns into something more serious.

    Ultimately, supporting social wellness in the workplace is about giving employees the time and space to create connections and encouraging them to make the most of it. It's important to remember that we all have a role to play in supporting social wellness, both at work and in our personal lives. If your company has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), make sure that it measures and tackles social wellness as a part of its commitment to employee mental health and well-being. Making the effort to support these needs will ensure that your employees are happier, healthier, and more productive. You may even find that your company culture will start to evolve naturally and that your social wellness initiatives will become an important factor in employee retention and attracting new talent.

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