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Pioneering Organizational Social Health

Categories Professional, Team Building
workplace social health


We spend more of our awake time working than any other activity, so it’s important that we are doing our best to ensure that it’s a positive, enriching experience.

We are pioneering ‘Organizational Social Health’ because it is an area of workplace behaviour, values and systems that for decades has been actively ignored, overlooked, stifled and undervalued yet has a hugely impactful effect on personal happiness and organizational success.

Personal Happiness

‘..workplace flirting is associated with less job satisfaction among co-workers, and greater levels of stress.

Front of mind when we consider workplace relationships are ‘office romances’ or trysts of various sorts and how they go wrong. Subordinate relationships, affairs, ‘harmless’ flirting vs sexual harassment, casual hook ups or clandestine meetups.

When workplace ‘romances’ breakdown the repercussions impact not only the people directly involved but also colleagues and the culture of an organization, and it’s the potential severity of that impact that raises red flags.

Feelings of distrust, negative concerns of favouritism, conflicts of interest, demoralizing and divisive attitudes, gossip, distractions, costly litigation or mediation, decrease in personal well-being, damaged reputations and sometimes forced or voluntary resignation.

And although we mostly have negative perceptions of them, with figures ranging from 50-65% it’s a clear indication that workplace ‘romance’ is commonplace.

Prohibition has often been used as a way to avoid potential liability, however in many cases it just forces the activity underground.  People aren’t going to stop exploring their feelings or dating because of policy.

The recent #MeToo movement has noticeably motivated workplace relationship discussion and action, with a study finding that 52% of companies recently surveyed reviewed their sexual harassment policies since the beginning of the #MeToo movement and 58% updated them. Complaints of inappropriate behaviour are up and reported numbers of relationships is down.

Workplace romance is a grey area that needs greater understanding and development as it raises general human behavioural and relational questions surrounding intent, consent, sexual or gender prejudices, and moral or ethical boundaries.

People quit their bosses, not their jobs.

Relationships with our ‘bosses’ and colleagues can be a considerable source of stress and un-happiness;

Relationship’s at work aren’t all bad though, there’s strong evidence indicating that the workplace social environment can have hugely positive personal results.

Business success

We have a continuing mounting resource of credible evidence indicating that relationships in the workplace affect the bottom line.

Year on year, the world’s leading research organization concerning the workplace, Gallup, has confirms that there is a direct and tangible link between employees who have a close relationship at work and key performance indicators;

  • Employees with a close relationship at work are 7 X more engaged and up to 50% more satisfied.
  • Engaged teams are 21% more profitable, achieve 20% more sales, are 17% more productive and 41% less absent. They experience between 24-59% less staff turnover, 28% less product shrinkage, 40% less quality defects and 70% fewer safety incidents.

‘It’s ‘less about who is on the team, and more about how the team worked together.’

What Google learned from its intensive 2-year global research project of 180 teams, on a mission to understand and build the perfect team, surprised researchers. The dynamics of how individuals interacted was the most significant indicator and predictor of team success.

Small talk with colleagues is good for business.

Science also shows that small informal social interactions significantly improves performance  in the area of executive functioning, which is the area of the brain that controls focus, planning, prioritization, and even organization.

A research study conducted by Globoforce of over 700 employees, recommended that companies ‘actively promote the development of work friendships and emotional connections among employees.’, based on their findings;

  • Those with many friends are much more deeply connected to their companies and are almost three times more likely to say they love working there.
  • Friendships strengthen the employee’s emotional contract with the organization as a whole.
  • Fmployees with friends are two times more likely to trust leadership and are prouder of their company
  • Employees with friends at work are less likely to jump ship
  • Having just one friend at work dramatically increased their commitment to the company and their inclination to stay.
  • Celebrated achievements and milestones with recognition from our peers are significantly more valued and more emotionally impactful.

In contrast to improving the workplace, the impact of a ‘toxic employee’ on the bottom line, is well researched.  Toxic people permeate toxic relationships directly and indirectly. Their incivility demoralizes people, negatively impacting those around them;

  • Nearly half of employees “decreased work effort” and intentionally spent less time at work
  • 38% “intentionally decreased” the quality of their work.
  • 25% of employees who had been treated with incivility admitted to taking their frustrations out on customers.
  • 12% left their jobs due to uncivil treatment

The way we engage each other, and the way we feel about being around each other has a significant impact on personal and organizational success factors.

What is Organizational Social Health?

The collective state of inter-personal engagement and well-being within a large group relating to how well group members get along with each other, how strongly or deeply connected they are in relationships, the social interactions between them and the values, systems and processes that support those relationships and social interactions.

Symptoms of strong organizational health include;

shared consciousness, trust, interdependence, loyalty, commitment, engagement, great communication, continuous and authentic feedback loops, trust, support systems, physical social spaces, opportunities for socializing, innovation & creativity, quick conflict resolution..

Symptoms of poor organizational health;

Gossip, distrust, micro management, protectionism, competitiveness, disengagement, poor communication, information silos, prioritize individual achievement over group success, no loyalty, high staff turnover, no personal support systems, low innovation, high absenteeism, high rate of workplace accidents and incidents, product shrinkage, high conflict..

What does ‘organizational social health’ encompass?

Values: Have you identified and communicated your organizational social culture? Do you have formalized guidelines? Does your organization value positive social characteristics e.g. trust, respect, acceptance? How are you communicating your social values?

Systems & Environment: Does the physical environment support share and collaborative spaces? Do you have formal hiring and on boarding processes? How does the organization support people to take risks? Does everyone have a close friend or support person they can turn to?  Are there opportunities for horizontal and vertical knowledge sharing? Where and when are there opportunities to get to know each other?  Do you have formal policy for managing relationships? Are there formal processes or guidelines for conflict resolution? What tools do you have to support communication, knowledge sharing etc?

People: How connected are the people in your workplace? How well do you know your team and the people that you work with? Do people feel like they belong? Are communication lines open vertically and horizontally? Do managers have strong relationships with their teams? Do people feel confident to give honest feedback or take creative/innovative risks? What opportunities are there for getting to know each other? Is there anti-social behaviour affecting others? How does leadership embody positive the organizations social values? Is there an open relationship channel with leadership?

Capability: Do your people have good social skills? Are you hiring people with skills that match your social values? How effective are your people at handling conflict and problem resolution? What areas of social skills could be improved?

Why is Organizational Social Health important?

85% of executives globally are concerned with improving engagement from an all-time low of 34%, because it has a significant negative impact on performance, customer service, profitability, absenteeism, staff churn, absenteeism, product shrinkage, loyalty, safety in the workplace, and ultimately the bottom line.

There is strong and growing evidence that interpersonal relationships in the workplace have a significant impact on people’s experience in the workplace. It affects whether want to be there, how they do their job and whether they stay.

But, complicated and problematic to manage, personal relationships were not recognized as necessary to improving efficiencies, so they were discouraged or formally prohibited in the workplace.

For decades organizations have treated employees like production units, measuring output and pitting them against each other in competition to raise performance and productivity.  We went to the office to be efficient and we drew a distinct line in the sand between ‘professional’ and ‘personal’, expecting employees to bring only their ‘professional’ self to the workplace.

We implemented strict hierarchical command structures and operated on a need-to-know basis where strategic decisions happen at the top, and lower down the chain need not bother with understanding ‘Why?’. Don’t ask questions, just be good at the task at hand.

The result: With almost 50% of employees actively seeking other employment opportunities, we are reaping what we’ve spent decades sewing; a dissatisfied, disengaged workforce with one foot out the door.

During the 70’s this workplace culture of siloed and hierarchical behaviour became a grave concern as the link between dysfunctional relationships and the ultimate tragedy, loss of life, emerged very clearly within the aviation industry. A staggering 70% of accidents were caused by human error and a breakdown in a relationship between a veteran pilot and a new first officer was a critical factor contributing to the deadliest aviation accident on record, killing 583 people on-board; 1977 Tenerife Airport Disaster.

This high emphasis on monitoring, measuring and controlling, has created low trust environments, where there is little expectation you could be happy at work, where mistakes get made and where many employees can’t wait to leave at the end of every day.

The power shift

This top-down controlling and reductionist approach may have worked before, but a dramatically different environment means that efficiencies gained at the micro level are now being undermined by primal human nature and supported by a collision of environmental factors.

Changes in technology, communication, availability and accessiblity of information, globalization and mobility, changing values and new behaviours such as social media, has created a much more dynamic and complex work environment and employee profile.

Employees increasingly have demands; they want praise over pay, they want to be heard, valued and recognized for their efforts, they want to be part of something bigger than themselves – a shared vision, mission or goal, they want to enjoy what they do and who they do it with, they want flexibility and work life balance, and they’re not sticking around for bad managers.

The modern workforce is being motivated by the next level of primal needs.  After satisfying shelter, food and health (physiological and safety needs), employees are being driven by a need to belong and develop self-esteem, as presented in 1943 through Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Being accepted, recognized and a valued team member is a primary driver of human behaviour, and employees are now experiencing a period of greater freedom to fulfil these innate needs.

The social environment of an organization has a significant and powerful impact on employees’ ability and desire to give their best and stay.

The Way Forward

The contrast of modern technological advancements with continued increases in aviation accidents during the 1960-70’s confounded the aviation industry, motivating it to investigate; In such technologically enabled times, why were these tragedies still occurring with such frequency?

The outcome was the development of a Crew Resource Management plan which focused largely on interpersonal skills, communication, leadership concepts and team work. They recognized that they could no longer ignore human behaviour, the diversity of personalities, cultural backgrounds, talents and skills and how they played inter-actively between crew members.

Although initially derided as ‘charm school’, it soon showed itself to be very successful in improving crew performance, safety and operational effectiveness.

It was reviewed and refined by NASA and has continued to evolve and be adopted by medical, military and fire safety services as a core part of training.

The fish is the last one to discover water.

How long did we think we could ignore or suppress human nature by requesting people to leave ‘themselves’ at the door, and get favourable outcomes?

Where-ever you have humans, you have human behaviour, and the need to connect and belong with others is a powerful driver of motivation, engagement and satisfaction.

The relationships between people, and the values, systems and processes that support a healthy social environment have a powerful and significant impact on an organization’s success or failure.

Employee’s needs, hopes and desires need to be acknowledged and must be woven into the fabric of human resource ‘management’ if organizations want to attract and get the best from their people ongoing.

Acknowledging and pro-actively engaging people holistically is the right thing to do by people and in the long term it’s the most productive and profitable way to run an organization.

Organizational Social Health is the body of understanding and behaviour that embraces people’s social needs and aims to leverage the potential to achieve the best outcomes for people and business.


‘Organizational Social Health’ is a new focus area, and we welcome your feedback and comments. We’d love to hear from you.


Want a free Organizational Social Health assessment?

We’re developing an Organizational Social Health Assessment for groups and companies to understand and evaluate their own social health. If you would like to be one of the first companies to take part, please get in touch.

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