Over the last six years, companies have had to grapple with five major “uncertainty shocks”: First it was Brexit in 2016, followed by the U.S. presidential election, China-U.S. trade-tensions, the Covid-19 pandemic, and in 2022 the Ukraine war.
These shocks reflect a new normal of greater global turbulence, driven by domestic and international political fragmentation. And these are subtly different from the economic shocks that executives may be more used to thinking about (HBR, 2022).
How a lack of connectedness impacts us all
Greater connectedness builds our capability to navigate uncertainty. Being, and feeling connected, is a fundamental human need – we all need to connect with other people, a sense of purpose and ultimately ourselves. But, it’s not always easy.
A lack of connection can affect anyone, and everyone:
- Organisations – reducing engagement, creating silos, losing talent, less able to be agile
- Managers and leaders – feeling isolated, overwhelmed by shifting expectations, struggling to adapt to new ways of working and build new capabilities
- Teams – lowering psychological safety, innovation, collaboration, learning, risk-taking, engagement
- New starters and underrepresented groups – feeling they don’t belong, don’t know
By understanding and leveraging the power of human connectedness, organisations have the power to benefit all their stakeholders including employees, leaders, families and society.
The science behind human connectedness
Human connectedness refers to the emotional and psychological bond between individuals, which is driven by our innate need for social interaction and belonging.
Our brains have evolved to prioritise social information and reward us for successful interactions. To survive and contribute in groups and tribes, several neural and hormonal processes evolved to support the formation and maintenance of social bonds.
There are three key aspects to understand about how connectedness works at a human level – neurobiological, emotional, and psychological.
Neurobiologically, we are wired for connectedness
According to social Brain theory, the primary driving force behind human brain evolution was the need to manage increasingly complex social relationships.
Mirror neurons are specialised neurons allowing us to empathise with others. They help us form and maintain social connections by simulating other people’s emotions and experiences in our own brains.
Social exclusion is experienced as pain. Brain neuroimaging shows the distress caused by social exclusion – loss of a loved one, rejection by one's social group, or the distress of separation experienced by young animals – activates the same areas of the brain as physical pain. A single painful exclusion can undermine well-being, IQ test performance and self-control.
Emotionally, we are rewarded for connecting
Connection is the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship (Brown, 2022).
When we have sense of purpose, and focus on helping others, our brains are prompted to release oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin – the “happiness trifecta” – which support empathy, social bonding, motivation, movement, and mood regulation.
Oxytocin, often referred to as the love hormone or social glue, plays a crucial role in facilitating trust, empathy, and social bonding. Studies demonstrate oxytocin can improve cooperation, collaboration, and prosocial behaviour in various contexts.
Psychologically, connection boosts wellbeing and performance
Whether our social needs are met or not, impacts our mental wellbeing and performance significantly. There are three main types of social needs: inclusion, control and warmth.
- Inclusion: how much you need to be included by others (wanted) and how much you need to include others in your life and activities (expressed)
- Control: how much you need control or structure from others (wanted) and how much you need to control others (expressed)
- Warmth: how much you need warmth from others (wanted) and how much you need to give out warmth (expressed).
Friendship at work also matters. Some of the most well-known research by Gallup shows that having a best friend at work can make a huge difference to engagement and performance. For example, women who strongly agree they have a best friend at work are more than twice as likely to be engaged (63%) compared with the women who say otherwise (29%).
Feeling connection to the work itself improves job satisfaction, productivity, and loyalty. Studies show that people doing meaningful work are more resilient, feel better and live longer. They have lower anxiety and stress. Whether work is meaningful relates to four factors:
- How coherent the work is with who you are
- The ability to contribute beyond yourself
- Opportunities for growth and accomplishment
- The impact on your wider life
The implications for the workplace are immense. With our brains wired for social connection, it's evident that human connectedness plays a crucial role in employee engagement, well-being, and performance.
Rate yourself and your teams on a scale of 1-5 for each of the criteria listed in the left-hand column.
We'll add up your scores for all five categories to get a total score out of 75, which you can then use to assess your proficiency in building connections using the S.P.A.R.K. Method©.