Why is a social connection so important for motivation and performance?

As a leader, this is some important information for you to know in times where social connection is becoming ever more virtual.

People have had to deal with long periods of ‘isolation’ where we could not see friends and families, and where we had to work from home. The circumstances have further pushed business into looking at their structures and infrastructure, with many opting for more permanent virtual work arrangements. This has and will continue to put a lot of stress on employees, and undoubtedly impact on employee wellbeing and motivation. One of the main reasons that motivation amongst employees dwindled, was the lack of social connection.

Social connection is an important element to effective emotional and social functioning and the lack thereof can have a negative impact on our motivation and thereby performance.

At the beginning of lockdown, I remember seeing all the memes about Introverts being excited and needing to show understanding for the difficulties being experienced by their extroverted counterparts during the times of social distancing.

There was also a lot of information posted that spoke to the different needs of these different types of personalities during lockdown. To look at Extroversion and Introversion more closely, I refer to the different personality preferences as described by Jung’s theory of psychological types.

The theory states that individuals with a preference for Extroversion get their energy from being around others and being able to interact with others socially. Whilst a preference for Introversion refers to individuals who are energized by spending time alone and engaging in self-reflection. One preference is not more desirable than another, the differences impact on our need for social connection.

Introverts and extraverts may have experienced lockdown differently, but both needed and wanted a degree of social interaction in the end. I personally experienced these different preferences playing out during lockdown through my interactions with my clients. I experienced Introverts making the most of working away from the office and found that they were enjoying the space and independence associated with working remotely. Whereas my more Extroverted clients took less time to start expressing feelings of cabin fever and isolation. Whilst I did not perceive the preferences having direct impacts on work outputs, I could hear how the preference differences were impacting on energy and motivation levels.

Despite initially capitalising on the “alone time” associated with lockdown, as time went on, I experienced that even the Introverts started to experience the negative impacts of limited connection and the frustration of being confined indoors which was limiting their ability to see close friends and family when they needed. Thus, we have seen it play out that even introverts felt a dip in motivation during the lockdown due to a lack of social connection.

Further to the fact that we do gain an amount of energy from socializing and interacting with others, a social connection also satisfies some of our most basic needs as individuals which is the need for community, acceptance, and belonging.

So what do I, as a Leader need to do to facilitate social connection?

Step 1: Get to understand your team better

Are there individuals you know who thrive in social situations or interactions, or actively seek these out? Can you reflect back on comments or behaviours you have seen that may support a high need for social interaction? If yes, maybe consider reaching out to these individuals more often than other team members. Although, you should be pushing for constant interactions with all team members to check-in with how they are doing and coping.

Step 2: Team Building is more important now more so than ever

Team cohesion and connection needs to be maintained and sustained through these times to ensure collaboration is happening and individuals are not falling into ‘silo mentality’. This phenomenon is well known for decreasing communication and team performance.

Consider: When can you schedule time for the team to have some fun together, or learn more about each other in order to help them stay connected?


If timing is an issue,

Consider starting meetings with a fun get-to-know-you/connectivity ice-breaker – e.g. “what did you have for dinner last night?” or “What is your favourite TV program and why?” both are simple questions that could assist in breaking down the virtual boundaries in meetings and establish a more positive vibe for the meeting – which we know enhances creativity and communication.

At its essence what we are missing out on from a social connection perspective is that “office vibe” that naturally facilitates collaboration, communication, and team problem-solving

Now that certain restrictions have been lifted – Consider – can you take the team out for a meal? Or if this is not possible, can you schedule time to have lunch together with the team virtually?

Remember it is important to have interactions that are not just task-focused, but also show team members that you value them and their uniqueness. Recognition is proving to be even more important currently.

Step 3: Keep the team visible

How often do you have meetings virtually with all team members’ cameras on?

Being able to visibly see one another can help individuals feel connected to the team even if they are working remotely. Where possible encourage team members to turn their cameras on, and if necessary provide the appropriate resources/infrastructure to address internet connectivity or bandwidth issues

Step 4: Mental Health is a large concern

Besides social connection, team members may require even more support than is apparent.

Create a culture of openness whereby you encourage employees to share the challenges that they are facing with either yourself as a leader, HR, or where possible encourage sharing within the team and allow the team to provide support to group problem solve and share their experiences and solutions.

Perhaps organize virtual runs or workout challenges with your team to keep everyone fit and healthy, as well as providing a way in which the team can have fun mutual conversations and fun.

Another interesting thing teams can do is to share recipes with each other. Each week everyone can all try a recipe and give feedback on how the experience went, and whether or not they enjoyed the recipe.

In summary, assisting your team to socially connect is not an exact science, and may not be your natural preference, but keeping a monitor on their connection needs will assist you and your team to survive this global disruption.

By Megan Carey-Wessels and Katherine Roper
Consulting Psychologists

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