At a glance
By Emma Foster
While the wholesale shift to hybrid work has had many benefits, it has also reduced everyday social interactions between colleagues.
There are fewer opportunities for casual corridor chats, grabbing a coffee or a bite to eat, or attending after-work events.
However, it is these small social acts, on top of career performance, that can be essential to career progress, says workplace psychologist Dr Amanda Gordon.
“If you’re not socialising, you’re not going to grow as a person. That’s going to impact your career,” says Gordon, who is the founder of Armchair Psychology and past president of the Australian Psychological Society.
When people make personal workplace connections, they are no longer “just a face on a video call or a photo in the staff directory”, Gordon adds. People are more likely to support a colleague’s professional growth if they know them personally.
“While you might hear of a promotion or project that interests you, it’s often your connections with people that will make the difference.”
The upside of socialising
Getting to know a colleague with diverse experience can also broaden a person’s perspective and help them see the larger picture.
It can also make work “a whole lot more enjoyable”. It can improve motivation, productivity and career satisfaction, says Dr Amantha Imber, founder of behavioural change consultancy Inventium and host of the How I Work podcast.
“We know that feeling connected to others and having strong bonds with people you work with is one of the biggest drivers of motivation and feeling engaged with a workplace,” Imber says.
A study by global professional association the Academy of Management supports this.
It has found that seemingly inconsequential social conversations can be “uplifting” and enhance an employee’s wellbeing.
Meanwhile, workplace analytics consultancy Gallup has repeatedly shown that developing workplace friendships is key to employee engagement and job success, and strongly linked to staff retention.
“The quality of relationships among work colleagues is certainly a key factor in an employee’s ‘stickiness’. Socialisation is really important for the individual, but also for managers to encourage it,” Imber says.
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Making time for socialising
The transition to hybrid work models may lead to some people losing their capacity for everyday chit-chat in the workplace, says Gordon.
“I’ve also seen many people resist going back into the workplace, because they feel they can get more work done undisturbed at home.
“They don’t realise that, in fact, they will grow professionally when they’re socialising with others.”
To get the hybrid work balance right, Imber recommends being “really deliberate” by scheduling tasks to complement the work location. That includes making time for being social.
“If you know you do better with deepfocused work when you’re in your home environment, then be deliberate in scheduling those kinds of projects when you’re working from home,” Imber says.
“Don’t expect to get heaps of deeply productive work done if you don’t do that well in an open-plan office environment.
“Instead, think about what your goals might be around socialisation. I recommend getting really organised with scheduling coffee catchups rather than leaving those to chance.”
Where to start with socialising
Gordon recommends thinking twice about the small opportunities to interact with colleagues during the day.
“Instead of sending an email to a teammate about a workplace problem… consider talking about it in person. Perhaps do it over coffee, instead of having your coffee at your desk with your head down.
“It doesn’t matter if your connection starts off about a work thing – you can develop it from there. You’ll feel that person getting to know you differently, and you’ll get to know them, too,” Gordon explains.
A “top-down” kickstart may be needed in some organisations to reintroduce socialisation. Some workplaces may need to encourage colleagues to stop for 10 minutes to talk to each other, Gordon says. This improves the likelihood that “people will do well, be effective and work better in teams”.