Don’t wait for HR – build your work family

September 9, 2019 Lynne Levy

4-minute read

Most people call the people they work with colleagues, peers, or co-workers. In the military, they call each other brothers and sisters. I call my colleagues at Workhuman® my family.

Two years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer. Fast forward two years, and I am happy, healthy, and doing what I love. I credit my colleagues to helping me through the many ups and downs of treatment and recovery. Whether it was a peer who told me how fabulous I looked in spite of my swollen face, or the EVP who continually told me, “We’ve got you, Lynne,” my family at Workhuman had my back.

When employees feel emotionally connected to each other, they are happier at work, more innovative, and more engaged.

The colleagues who supported me through treatment now tell me how supporting me gave them a sense of purpose and inspiration. Working in a culture that is like a family or community is good for employees, customers, and business.

We can’t just rely on our HR departments to create organizational programs to develop this sense of acceptance, connection, and caring. Each one of us can build our community at work.

(Want to learn more about Lynne's Workhuman story? Listen to her Workhuman Radio interview here.)

Here are my suggestions:

Break down barriers between work and life.

Many of us pretend we can’t separate work and life. But the reality is how we feel at work impacts what happens at home, and vice versa. Most of us spend more time with our colleagues every day than our family

In her article, “We All Need Friends at Work,” published in the Harvard Business Review, Christine M. Riordan notes, “Employees report that when they have friends at work, their job is more fun, enjoyable, worthwhile, and satisfying.”

Gallup found that close work friendships boost employee satisfaction by 50% and people with a best friend at work are 7x more likely to engage fully in their work.

Bring your whole self to work, including what is going on with your family and other activities outside of the office. Build connection by sharing stories with colleagues. For me, that meant sharing my health crisis.

Leaders, managers, and supervisors: Get out of your office.

Leaders set the tone and leaders need to model connection. They need to head to the lunchroom, chat with employees, talk about their family, and make an effort to attend social events with colleagues. Leaders need to tell personal stories to connect with others.

I once worked for a billion-dollar organization where the CEO modeled connection each day. He knew everyone in the home office by name, had lunch in the cafeteria, and always roamed the halls chatting. He knew when employees had children and when their children were graduating from college.

By modeling connection through his own behavior, the organization became a community from front-line employees through senior leadership.

Celebrate milestones.

Not only are work milestones meaningful, but so are life milestones. After cancer treatment, I returned to an office of balloons and hugs. Even today, after my periodic scans, my colleagues celebrate with me. Celebrating life milestones at work creates moments of emotional connection and positivity. 

Whether a graduation, a marriage, or recovering from an illness, it is important to celebrate often. And it doesn’t need to be complicated; a cake or a few balloons and a card can create a sense of positivity, connection, and encouragement.

Recognize your colleagues.

A social recognition tool is an effective way to build relationships, connection, and productivity. When an individual gives or receives recognition, their mood lightens, stress is reduced, and emotional connection is nurtured.

The week before I went on medical leave at the end of my treatment journey, I sent recognition moments to each of my colleagues who supported me. The moments were heartfelt, specific, and expressed my sense of gratitude. One read, “Thank you, Naomi and Michelle, for sitting with me at the airport in Canada when I received positive test results. You cried with me as my sense of relief poured over me.” My colleagues still talk about the recognition moments I gave and the depth of emotion I expressed.

Sincere, heartfelt recognition can cut through anger, frustration, and stress to create genuine connection between colleagues.

I call my colleagues my family. Others call their colleagues their community. Regardless of the term we use, we should all look to create cultures where there is a sense of commitment, caring, and connection up and down the organization. Don’t wait for a formal HR program. Build your community.

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About the Author

Lynne Levy

Lynne Levy is a Workhuman evangelist who lives and breathes helping organizations build cultures that bring out the best in the employees. Her mantra is “do what you love, love what you do.”

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