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How to Create a Culture of Connections

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

How to Create a Culture of Connections

Human resources are, in a practical sense, the most important resource any company has — its people. However, as a department — HR has become a woefully outdated entity in a stunning number of organizations. And if it’s going to survive the coming paradigm shifts in the world of business, it will need to adapt according to the changing needs of employees across all industries.

While this has been apparent to some industry leaders for a while — the public mental health crisis brought on by COVID-19 has really shone a light on the need for change in the global workplace culture. More specifically — HR professionals must work to create a more empathetic workplace culture — a culture of connections.

But why is this so necessary? For one — COVID-19 has shown everyone just how outpaced Human Resources departments have been by the changes happening around them. These days, less than 20% of all employees would like work to fully go back to pre-COVID days. And though most managers and HR professionals don’t like talking about it — statistics show that only one in ten people across various sectors claimed to be honestly engaged in their jobs.

Naturally, occupational malaise can’t solely be laid at the doorstep of HR departments. But this widespread disillusionment with workplace cultures definitely begs the question — just how much of a difference does HR actually make in a company? If the entire department disappeared tomorrow, what would others miss the most? For now, it seems the answer is — not all that much.

For a long time, HR has been steadily losing its grip on “human” and focusing more on “resources”. And the constant referring to employees as “human capital” and “assets” certainly wasn’t helping. For most employees, HR is the place you go to when you want to ask something about benefits, vacation time, or your payroll — and all of these administrative functions can be replaced by automation even today.

Somehow, we’ve accepted the fact that HR isn’t the beating heart of a company — the part that brings clarity and humanity to our working lives. What should have been a truly fundamental aspect of every business has been sidelined — distancing HR professionals from the employees they were supposed to serve in the first place.
Theoretically, times of humanitarian and human crisis should have been days when HR is at the forefront — a workplace safety net, the first port of call for the distressed, and a team ready to look after employees’ emotional needs.

Unfortunately, it’s more than evident that this isn’t the case. So, what can HR professionals do to rekindle a culture of human connection in the workplace? We’ll explore some ideas on that right here.

The Problem of Workplace Stress

It’s not hyperbole to say that a mental health tsunami is looming over the horizon. While stress has always been a part of the workplace — especially for high-performing employees — now it has reached critical, boiling-point levels.

A University of Birmingham study [1] has shown that this stress is unlikely to dissipate on its own, even in a post-vaccine environment. Similarly to post-catastrophe eras after Hurricane Sandy or 9/11, job security is at an unpredictable low — leading to a lot of stress for employees across a huge variety of industries in the coming months.

And this stress isn’t exclusive to lower-level employees either. An Oracle study from 2020 has shown that 70% of surveyed executives have called that year their most stressful time in the workplace ever — half of them also reported mental health issues in the workplace.

While companies have been busy advocating for leaner management and employee structures in the face of declining revenue, they haven’t dealt with a key aspect of employee stress levels — namely, the fact that all of that just isn’t financially sustainable.

It’s important to remember that employee stress is far from a solely ethical or humanitarian issue. Just in terms of US healthcare costs, workplace stress has reduced the employers’ bottom line by the tune of up to $190 billion [2].

And individuals aren’t as much at fault as the entire corporate system is. Even though many people directors and HR are aware of the issues, they simply lack the clout salespeople have in the grand scheme of things. Without a voice at the top and bringing tangible money to the company, it’s not easy to make a difference and alter the environment into one that’s empowering employees and making them feel like they belong.

However, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel — the combination of the unexpected global pandemic and the fourth industrial revolution has given HR an opportunity to rewrite their script — potentially shifting focus from company processes to actual people. Over time, this may lead to a new culture and new leadership.

Going from Human Resources to the Connections Team

This may seem like a superficial change — but all deep changes have to start somewhere. And while many people disregard this, there’s an actual power to the language used within organizations — especially when change is necessary.

During the height of COVID-19 lockdowns, the UK government made the mistake of dubbing those who provided socially essential services as “low-skilled employees”, — leading to a natural uproar. However, as soon as the terminology was changed to “key workers”, a lot of the public perception was shifted to a positive outlook. And that’s when we started spending our Thursdays clapping and thanking these most valuable members of our society.

What does this example illustrate? No matter how trivial it seems, language affects behavior — and sometimes in extremely powerful ways. And that’s why changing the name of “human resources” would go a long way towards making these departments a little closer to employees’ needs and a little less cynical.

With that change, HR could start doing what was arguably its original intent in the first place — becoming the “connection” and social glue between teams and individual team members, regardless of whether physical or virtual.

Better Onboarding

In recent years, onboarding has become a mechanical process in many companies — one where new employees learn the practical ins and outs of their new company, but without much attention paid to how they’ll fit in socially. However, the onboarding of new employees is actually one of the biggest contributors to a business’s success.

In other words, one of the key determinants in how successful employees will be in a company happens even before they’ve begun working. That’s why investing in an organized, strong, and people-focused onboarding program is necessary — one that follows the “Four C’s” of proper onboarding and provides new hires with ample understanding of the organization’s culture and their new jobs.

Focusing on Emotions

During onboarding and beyond, HR needs to focus on an oft-forgotten aspect of employee management — keeping people happy. And not just by providing them with adequate compensation for their work; we mean “happy” on a basic, emotional level.

Tracking people’s emotions more effectively and responding to them in a timely manner is becoming more and more important. Companies like Adobe [3], who have realized this, have immediately done away with archaic and robotic surveys — using collaborative software to track employees’ moods continuously instead.

It’s also important to realize that empathy is not a simple soft skill — it takes a lot of work to handle all workplace situations with a perfect emotional balance. And that’s especially true in turbulent, uncertain working environments — like the pandemic.

Studies of workplace emotional intelligence have found that employees with those skills are less stressed out about their jobs — and more committed to their companies as well. The new “Connection Teams” should help employees position themselves better emotionally — with learning modules on adapting to remote work, but also basic stuff like having difficult conversations.


Essentially, companies need a brand new social contract between employees and employers — and there will be no better time to write it than now. A bigger focus on quantifying and examining emotions is necessary to improve people’s behaviors and their stances towards their work. That’s why a Connections team might be an exciting place to work in these days — if we bring back the human element into HR.

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