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Social Recognition Trend Seeks to Create Community in the Workplace

Kaitlynn Martin April 3, 2019
Woman in a yellow shirt sitting at a table with a laptop that has 7 colleagues on a video call.

Today, innovative workplace wellness programs are taking all facets of wellness seriously—exercise, nutrition, emotional, financial, and social. Since the 1970s when wellness programs emerged as HR initiatives, the idea of wellness has shifted from exercise and nutrition to a broader idea of well-being. Effective wellness programs look at aspects, or pillars, that make an employee whole, while understanding that all of the pillars are interrelated.

One pillar that has gathered importance in the workplace wellness sphere focuses on employees’ social needs. As a result, health and wellness management professionals aim to spread awareness, appreciation, and to foster a sense of community throughout workplaces comprised of diverse roles and personalities through the use of social recognition.

What is social recognition in the workplace?

At the end of a busy work day, you might pat yourself on the back for taking the stairs instead of the elevator and passing the box of doughnuts in the break room. In fact, these wellness goals are staples in many workplace wellness programs. But, would you also give yourself kudos for talking with a coworker while sipping your morning coffee instead of hurrying back to your workstation? Probably not—especially when some employers frown on such activity.

For many, it might be a foreign concept to acknowledge the importance of social wellness as part of our overall health. After all, wellness programs that target exercise and nutrition have traditionally made the most noise. Take Clif Bar & Company’s headquarters in Emeryville, California, for example. It offers ~1,000 employees access to a 2,500-square-foot onsite gym complete with a massage room, dance studios, climbing wall, and a full collection of equipment. Clif Bar employees have the freedom to workout on company time—up to 30 minutes a day.  

While having an expansive in-house fitness center is far from reality for most workplaces, it’s important to note that focusing on social wellness doesn’t require such extreme measures.

Still questioning just how much a workplace contributes to an employee’s social well-being? Consider this: An average worker in the U.S. spends 90,000 hours at work during his or her lifetime, which means much of day-to-day in-person socializing is limited near your desk. Fortunately, social recognition tactics—when used as part of a holistic wellness program—can strengthen employee engagement and satisfy individuals’ social needs.

Social recognition includes, but is not limited to, using social platforms to post, share, comment, and interact in ways that help motivate co-workers to achieve their individual and team goals. As a result, social recognition initiatives can create a team-oriented atmosphere.

An average worker in the U.S. spends 90,000 hours at work during his or her lifetime, which means much of day-to-day in-person socializing is limited near your desk.

Health and wellness management professionals and employers can implement social recognition by promoting employee achievements (promotions and successful projects) and giving generous praise for milestones (marriage or births) via social media platforms and other online forums. This kind of appreciation can be distributed company-wide. Once posted, fellow employees can easily comment, message, or share the social recognition with the recipient and others in real-time and spread awareness quickly and efficiently around other social networks, company intranets, and internal communication such as newsletters.

Consequences of low social wellness in the workplace

While fostering a healthier workforce through social recognition initiatives might make everyone feel better and more connected, that warm, fuzzy feeling is a hard pitch to company leaders who are focused more on the bottomline. Social wellness shouldn’t be written off so fast, however, as it holds productivity implications that workplace stakeholders must be aware of.

Whether there is an imminent work presentation on your mind, a child coming down with a cold, or an endless amount of email and text notifications tugging you in many directions, it can be difficult to stay engaged in the workplace. In fact, Gallup reports that globally only 20 percent of workers are engaged in their jobs. Engagement is not something to ignore. According to Gallup’s The Right Culture: Not Just About Employee Satisfaction report, absenteeism decreased by 41 percent while productivity increased by 17 percent within business units with highly engaged workers.

Social recognition initiatives can be the first step in the right direction when it comes to improving workplace engagement and reducing loneliness.

If the above points aren’t convincing enough, research shows that low social wellness in the workplace can contribute to the ever-present and often damaging circumstance of workplace loneliness. A 2018 Cigna study reported that loneliness in the United States has reached epidemic levels with nearly half of Americans who “sometimes or always feel lonely or left out.” And with the onset of COVID-19 in early 2020, isolation has made connecting with others an extreme challenge.

Loneliness is not contained within employees’ personal lives. Rather, it easily seeps into workplace culture and derails productivity.

Social recognition initiatives can be the first step in the right direction when it comes to improving workplace engagement and reducing loneliness. A survey by the American Psychological Association found that employees with senior leadership who backed wellness efforts (including social initiatives) were 89 percent more likely to recommend their company to others.

Meaningful interactions that occur in workplace settings can help alleviate loneliness woes. Consequently, implementing social recognition initiatives through online platforms have the potential to provide in-person discussion starters and a sense of camaraderie among employees.

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Take the next step to a healthier, more socially engaged workplace

Interested in starting your health and wellness management career journey? You can make the jump into this exciting industry, and we can help. Explore how an online University of Wisconsin Health and Wellness Management master’s degree can prepare you for a fulfilling career that aims to combat workplace loneliness, create organizational development, strengthen communication skills, foster employee engagement, and advance a versatile approach to health and wellness programs.

It’s time to focus on the power of social connections and how they can positively contribute to health and wellness initiatives. Reach out to an enrollment adviser to learn more by calling 608-262-2011 or emailing learn@uwex.edu.

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