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The Severing Cords of Family Social Connection and Workplace Implications

by | May 1, 2024

“Human beings need social connections to thrive, and being embedded in strong supportive networks can protect our wellbeing when we’re faced with difficulties in life.” ~ Dr. Olivia Remes,  mental health researcher at the University of Cambridge (UK)

In the month of May we celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to examine issues relating to our employees in this important facet of their wellbeing.  Alarmingly, mental health-related leaves of absence are surging in the workplace, new data from MetLife’s 22nd annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study finds that such leaves are up 33% in 2023 over 2022.  Of course, a host of contributing factors can account for this increase, including persistent high inflation and financial stressors; continuing international turmoil; the divisiveness in politics; and social media-induced isolation, to name a few.

Emerging from this landscape is a less-discussed yet increasingly significant concern: the disintegration of family relationships.  According to a recent Forbes article: “Revealing Divorce Statistics in 2024,” almost 50% of all first marriages in the U.S. will end in divorce, 67% of second marriages, and 73% of third marriages.  And in a study by YouGov Polls in December of 2022, it was found that 29% of Americans are estranged from an immediate family member (including siblings, parents, children, or grandchildren).  This same study found that 58% of those responding indicated that family relationships are the most important ones to them.  In the 9th annual American Family Survey completed in 2023, the number one challenge identified that families are facing are tensions and disagreements between family members.

Labeled a ‘silent epidemic’ by a growing number of therapists and researchers, family estrangement is one of the most profoundly disorienting and emotionally painful experiences that a human being can face.  Adding to this, the Atlantic Magazine in September 2023, reported that the percentage of people who say that they don’t have close friends has increased fourfold since 1990.  Concurrently, the Pew Research Center in late 2023 reported that 15% of those responding had only one or no close friends.  And a Meta-Gallup poll from October 2023 revealed that 24% of American adults report feeling “very or fairly lonely.”

Research consistently underscores the vital role that social connection has on our mood, our psychological health, and our productivity.  Individuals who are socially connected and have stable, supportive, and nurturing relationships are more likely to make healthy choices and have better mental and physical health outcomes.  Having this social connection facilitates a person feeling that they belong and are understood.

As leaders in People & Culture, proactive steps can be taken to foster team member connection in our workplaces:

  1. Promote Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs): Make these resources widely known and accessible to all employees.
  2. Encourage Social Interactions: Encourage team members to connect during breaks or lunches, fostering a sense of community.
  3. Establish Employee Resource Groups (ERGs): Create groups where team members with shared interests or backgrounds can connect and support each other.
  4. Host Social Events: Organize events to bring employees together in a relaxed, social setting, to celebrate or to volunteer in the local community.
  5. Leverage Technology: Use technology to connect remote or dispersed teams, facilitating virtual social interactions and bonding.

By implementing these strategies, your organization can cultivate a culture of connection, leading to improved employee wellbeing and positive organizational outcomes.

For further guidance on addressing this and other critical issues impacting team effectiveness, please reach out to our People & Culture practice at Cornerstone Strategic Alliance. We are here to support and provide the tools to creatively navigate these challenges to enhance your business growth.

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About the Author

Mary Toland Shaw, MHR, SHRM-SCP

Mary Toland Shaw, MHR, SHRM-SCP

Talent Optimization Partner

Mary is an Executive Human Resources professional and coach, bringing 30+ years of experience gained with predominantly fast-growing software solutions companies. Passionate in guiding executive leadership teams in creating initiatives that enhance an internal sense of meaningful purpose and engagement in employees. Unlocking this human component serves as a predominant business results accelerator.