The importance of socialization at work
What is the purpose of socialization? For many years, socialization in the workplace was a way to help employees ‘let their hair down’ after a long week. Friday night bar or braai was a way to give back to employees. But company culture is going through a transition. Employees now expect more connectedness with their company.
According to Professor Matthew Lieberman, human interaction is a basic human need, which he equates to our need for food and shelter. “Being socially connected is our brains lifelong passion” says Prof Lieberman. As such, socialization has several purposes and outcomes which should not be dismissed when we shift into a business environment.
The simple truth is that fostering friendships at work helps employee engagement. It creates a positive environment where employees feel connected and can develop a sense of purpose with their peers.
Often, socialization takes place within obvious groups such as project teams. But it should also be encouraged across traditional business boundaries to help stimulate a sense of connectedness with the company.
Boundaries can be created around teams, hierarchical groups, personal interest groups or career goals. Sometimes they are obvious, sometimes far less apparent. But socialization is something that can traverse any boundary; a junior to a senior on another team, two people striving for promotions in different sectors, or weekend interests.
However, developing communities isn’t easy. It requires a company to provide platforms and environments that support and promote relationship building. This isn’t just Friday night bar, although those kind of events does serve a purpose. The initiatives must be part of a bigger strategic, thought-through, program to promote relationship building across various ‘boundaries’.
What should be the true intent of Socialization?
The true intent of socialization is two-fold; to create camaraderie which serves to drive accountability and delivery in the work place, but also employee engagement which leads to job satisfaction and a sense of personal fulfillment.
However, these goals can fall apart if the company in question does not appreciate that relationships are not merely a means to an end, but an end in itself; one that must be authentic.
Camaraderie is a key feature of a successful team because it creates a sense of mutual accountability and responsibility. Employees who have a sense of accountability, responsibility, and self-fulfillment are more likely to stay engaged in the workplace. Hence it can logically be considered to have a positive effect on retention, as these features relate to personal development.
So, what should your company do to promote community and socialization?
Without knowing it, socialization starts on your first day; introductions, onboarding. Already there is a connection made in those first few hours and days as people get to know each other.
Then there are the connections made as people join project teams and begin to integrate themselves into roles and take on responsibilities. However, very often, this is where socialization begins to fade. The pressures of the project deadlines mean that work becomes the focus and socialization quickly moves to second place.
One should realize that socialization is an ongoing practice that never ends. Once you’ve settled into your team, there are opportunities to socialize with new employees, or form a relationship with your client, which leads to more opportunities to socialize and engage with clients from different departments.
Although after work drinks can be a great social tool in its simplest form, relationship building at work serves the greater purpose of providing personal and professional support.
Companies must spend considerable thinking time dedicated to establishing various and multiple social opportunities. In some instances, this may feature as part of an appraisal or a less formal growth objective, where the employee makes a considerable effort to attend the social activities or even manage arrange the social activities.
Non-traditional examples of socialization initiatives include community events such as User Groups and Entelect’s DevDay. Social investment initiatives, such as the Entelect Foundation, or sports events are more typical activities that companies such as Entelect use to help break down traditional boundaries in the work place and encourage their staff to create relationships across teams, projects or hierarchies.
At Entelect the Social Clubs are run by employees, where they have full ownership and autonomy of their clubs.
Take the mountain climbing club for example. They meet once a month whereby the venue will either be indoor or outdoor and the tools required for climbing are sponsored by Entelect. A typical day would include 10-20 people including the spouse or plus 1. Then you have a good 3-4 hours of community building, cross-team teamwork and support for their fellow climbers. The day after the event, pictures are shared on the internal social platform and plenty of jokes and chatter around the day and events as they transpired.
Socialization however, is also very personal. Some people prefer to socialize in large groups where there is lots of energy such as the climbing club. Whereas other people prefer to socialize in small groups or one-on-one. Companies need to find ways to support and facilitate these different connecting styles, otherwise company culture will become exclusive rather than inclusive, which is ultimately the goal.
A good example of a way to engage with people who prefer smaller groups is to invite a fellow employee from a different team on a coffee run. Or to join the Chess Club at Entelect, where they meet bi-monthly. These interactions present less social pressure and can often result in making a stronger connection as it’s one-on-one.
Given the importance of socialization, many companies should make sure that it is a key part of their culture. Whenever someone asks me, why do I drive the social culture in a company as much as much as I do, my response always comes down to the following; One-third or more of your day are spent at the office. You can just as well build relationships and community, as it is so much more fulfilling in your working environment when you collaborate and feel that you belong.
Employees expectation of companies is most certainly shifting, and companies need to view an employees desire to belong as positive. While this places a few extra demands on a company to ensure they are providing relationship development opportunities for every type of personality, they must remember that creating camaraderie in the workplace and improving employee engagement will lead to job satisfaction and a sense of personal fulfillment for everyone in the workplace.