The current pandemic has validated decades of scientific research showing how critical social interactions are to our effectiveness. Prolonged physical distancing runs counter to our human drive for social connection. This primal need to connect is deeply wired into us: Thousands of years ago, if we got separated from our tribe, we were less likely to survive. Our brain remembers and has adapted to this ancestral experience, by developing an extreme sensitivity to loneliness and a rapid ability to raise our internal threat level when we experience it. The result is how many of us are feeling in this pandemic world: Stressed, edgy, depressed and disconnected.
Our Craving to connect
Brain scan studies show that feeling socially and emotionally connected to others, doesn’t just feel better, we also think and perform better. 2020 has been like a massive unforeseen global experiment that has revealed as core findings, the very raw and real impact of social isolation on mental health and everyday effectiveness. This has left organizations scrambling to recalibrate workforce policy and practices in an attempt to prop up and sustain mental health, productivity and engagement across its digitally connected and yet socially disconnected employees.
Research shows that social media platforms and other ways of interacting via devices do not replace real human interaction. Our brains have evolved to look for and derive important data from non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, body gestures and touch. Studies show that quality interactions that involve interpersonal warmth, positive facial expressions and feeling understood by others, activates our brain’s reward and pleasure circuitry, namely the ventral striatum.* We are all now acutely aware of how much we gained from our down the hall chats with peers, coffee line up exchanges, our meeting room interactions and even our commute time…now that we’ve lost those experiences.
A new way of working
In this upcoming blog series we explore and share ways that leaders and organizations can maximize connectedness for ourselves and our teams. Specifically:
- Recalibrating daily habits and routines
- Improving ways of interacting with others
- Reskilling for the future.
* Inagaki & Eisenberger, 2012, 2013