What is social wellbeing?

Social wellbeing is defined as feeling a sense of belonging and inclusion by building and forming meaningful relationships with others. But what can you do to strengthen it?

The workday is in full swing by the time you arrive at the office. Your colleague Mark catches you in the lift and you chat with him about the soccer season beginning at the end of the week. Later, your boss Lucy dashes past, but quickly stops to check in about your partner because they had been sick earlier in the week. You make a mental note to text your partner to see how their day is going too. When it’s time to go in for a midday meeting, your team do a quick five minute yoga session before heading into the boardroom. 

After lunch you’re standing at the copy machine when Kirsti approaches. You want to tell her how well the last sales call went because she’s top of the ladder and you’re always trying to learn new tips and tricks from her. Then, just as you’re ready to pack up for the day, your partner replies to your text to tell you they’re enjoying their first day back at work. Success! 

Now it may not seem like it, but these are all simple examples of how you’re working on your social health without even knowing it. How? Just by conversing and doing team activities or events with other people during your workday. And while it is often overlooked, it should actually rank equally with your physical or mental wellbeing. 

So what exactly is social wellbeing and why is it so important?

In this blog post you will learn about:

  • What is social health and wellbeing?
  • Why is social health so important? 
  • How can you strengthen social wellbeing in the workplace?
  • Why are healthy breaks good for social wellbeing?  

What is social  wellbeing, and why is it key for your health?

Social wellbeing is defined as feeling a sense of belonging and inclusion by building and forming meaningful relationships with others. According to the World Health Organization, social wellbeing is so important that it should be prioritized on the same level as physical and mental wellbeing. Social interactions with others are even considered a basic human need (1). 

So while being in good health may just feel like being physically fit and hardly ever calling in sick, or having peace of mind and being able to get through the day, it should also include your relationships with other people in your life- including your colleagues. 

Bottom line: Social wellbeing is as important to your overall wellbeing as physical and mental health, so make it a priority during your workday.

Why is social wellbeing important?

There’s quite a few reasons why social wellbeing is important to your overall health- and even for the company you work for. 

Studies have shown that social relationships affect mental health, behavior, physical health, and even mortality risk (3). This means that prioritizing being social at work and nurturing relationships between workers can lead to an overall sense of good health. Another study found that positive social interactions in the workplace impacted work engagement, task performance and respect for team members (4). And in a recent German study, 80 percent of participants reported the social isolation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic had restricted their ability to be social in their daily life, which led to many not experiencing the positive effect of social relationships (5). 

Having gone through the worst stages of lockdown during the pandemic, a lot of workplaces have allowed their employees to continue mixing working both from home and in the office. While the added flexibility is a wonderful bonus, this means employees spends less time face-to-face with each other. It may therefore reduce the satisfaction of their social needs during the workday and make it harder for them to maintain strong social relations with their colleagues. To keep employees from feeling isolated, initiatives supporting the social wellbeing between colleagues working in this hybrid fashion should be prioritized. 

To validate the effect of services supporting this need, the University of Copenhagen conducted a research project in collaboration with Pleaz. In the study, office workers and work from home employees were asked to regularly take part in Pleazers (short, video-guided exercises) throughout the working week, and were then compared to employees who didn’t do any Pleazers. Results showed that those who took part in these healthy breaks (usually with their colleagues) experienced an increase in job satisfaction, a decrease in stress levels and identified more with their colleagues, compared to those who did not participate in Pleazers. 

Bottom line: Social wellbeing is extremely important to employee health, and can be fostered working from home or in the office through social healthy breaks.

How can you strengthen social wellbeing while working?

Every office has that one spot – whether it is at the water cooler, the coffee machine, in the break room or someplace else – where you go to re-energize and connect with your coworkers. These places and the idea behind them should not be taken for granted. Studies have shown that spending your lunch breaks with your colleagues boosts relationships and overall wellbeing at work (6). This is because these interactions are an informal way to chat with your coworkers while at the office. 

But what happens when half of the company is working remotely? For those working at home, you’re unlikely to tee up a time to eat lunch together virtually with your office colleagues, while it may be more awkward for employees at the office to invite their work-from-home colleagues down to the local watering hole. So how do you connect with your colleagues throughout the day?

While it might seem like simply having a quick chat with your colleagues next time you see them is all you need to improve your social wellbeing, there are other more effective ways to work on this.

1. Practice active listening

Communication is an important part of performing well within your team. However, effective communication is not achieved just by being clear and direct when you are expressing yourself. Communication is a two-way street and without the ability to listen and understand your colleagues, important information is lost.

Edgar Dale famously theorized that you only remember 20% of what you hear (7) – and whether this is true or not, listening is definitely a skill that all of us could benefit from improving on. The purpose of active listening lies within the name – listening actively. Listening is an active and conscious decision to give the speaker your full attention, unlike hearing which is an automatic process. This means actively directing your senses towards the speaker, while showing you are listening and engaged in the conversation by nodding, smiling, and engaging with the speaker.

You might think this is simple, but being able to do this for longer periods of time can be quite difficult – which is why we encourage you to actively practice this skill.

2. Have lunch breaks together

Ah, the humble lunch break. While many an office worker might continue to work while on their break, there’s good reason to actually take the time out to sit with your fellow staff members. In fact, it has been scientifically proven that regularly having lunch with your colleagues can improve relationships between those in the office and contribute positively to overall wellbeing (6).

le to chat about something other than work – in fact, you might find that your colleagues would prefer to talk about what they did on the weekend or their favorite hobby.

So next time you think it might be best to skip the lunch break or to sit at your desk- think about your social wellbeing. It’s good for you – and the company!

3. Do activities together

Doing teambuilding activities with your colleagues outside of work is another effective way to build social relationships and trust within the workplace. Studies have shown that employees at companies rated with a high level of trust report 74 percent less stress, 106 percent more energy at work, 76 percent more engagement, 29 percent more satisfaction with their lives, and 13 percent fewer sick days, compared to people working at companies deemed to have a lower level of trust (8).

We won’t try to list examples of the activities teambuilding could entail, as numerous pages listing these great activities is only a quick Google search away. However, we do encourage you to prioritize doing teambuilding activities at work in order to experience these incredible benefits.

4. Take a (healthy) break with others

One solution to increasing both you and your colleagues’ social wellbeing is scheduling breaks throughout the workday and before meetings. And by a break, we don’t mean just spending five minutes scrolling social media – we mean actively moving your body or letting your mind and body relax by practicing some mindfulness.

Doing these things together with your other workmates – whether in the office or working remotely – is a great way of connecting. It’s something you can have a laugh about that’s not particularly work related. In a recent study conducted by the University of Copenhagen in conjunction with Pleaz, it was found that colleagues could positively relate to each other more by 18 percent after doing a short, video guided exercise once a working day across four months.


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