Empathy is a pivotal leadership tool in today’s global market. And the importance of fostering employee well-being, engagement and belonging is at an all-time high. Job seekers want to be cared about as human beings, not just as worker bees. With well-being a priority, more organizations are looking to provide employees flexible working arrangements and support. But with the rise of flexible work options, companies need to be strategic in the way they create connections within teams and across teams.

Connections Foster A Thriving Workplace

Science shows that workplace connections pay off in spades. According to Gallup, when employees feel like they don’t belong or that their workplace isn’t fair, performance suffers and engagement drops. Gallap’s data show that “Employees who feel included—based on strongly agreeing with Gallup’s recommended measures for inclusion—are more engaged at work than those who do not strongly agree with those survey items.”

Research from Red Thread Research and Enboarder corroborates Gallup’s conclusions that strong workplace connections have significant benefits for both employees and employers. They found that when companies prioritize connections, they’re 2.3 times more likely to have engaged employees, 5.4 times more likely to be agile and 3.2 times more likely to have satisfied customers. The study found that connection in the workplace is improving overall:

  • 93% of employees feel connected to their coworkers, with 56% saying they feel very connected.
  • 57% of hybrid and full-time in-office respondents named the ability to form stronger relationships as the number one most important benefit of going into the office.
  • 63% said their coworkers had the biggest impact on helping them feel connected.
  • 50% of respondents who feel connected said they strongly agree their job motivates them to go above and beyond, compared to just nine percent of those who feel disconnected.  
  • Managers not providing enough support (29%) and managers/leaders not providing enough transparency in decisions (26%) were two of the top three most cited barriers to connection in the workplace. 

Based on this research, Brent Pearson, CEO of Enboarder, outlines four aspects of connection and how they can build stronger work relationships. “To effectively enable connection in the workplace,” Pearson told me, “you need to consider all four aspects of connection and what situations call for certain types of connection.”

The Four Aspects Of Organizational Connection 

  1. Emotional Connection. Emotional connections start when individuals encounter new people, ideas or information they find emotionally compelling. You form an emotional connection when you try understanding an organization’s purpose, when you bond over shared interests or challenges or when you meet a kindred spirit. Examples are having lunch with colleagues, having a “workplace bestie,” talking about what you did over the weekend with coaches or sharing pictures of your pet.
  2. Intellectual Connection. Intellectual connection begins when people feel the need to know new people, ideas or information. Emotional connection is what people feel, and intellectual connection is what people know. Employees who take the time to learn about their organization’s goals and mission or understand others’ roles and responsibilities within the organization show intellectual connection. When forming intellectual connections, organizations can hold events that allow employees to get to know one another, their work and the organization better.
  3. Forming Connection. When forming emotional connections, people need to be introduced to new ideas and information. Examples are meeting new colleagues, starting a new project or having “water cooler” chats. Or setting new hires up with a hire buddy or having new team members participate in “meet and greets” to ensure they’re connecting with new colleagues.
  4. Deepening Connection. The goal of deepening connection is to strengthen relationships that already exist. Managers and other leaders might share something personally meaningful to foster trust like talking about your Thanksgiving holiday or participating in a workplace event to show how you feel about in-person connection. Giving difficult feedback in a caring way, such as sharing feedback, then following with what the employee did well can also aid in building emotional connection. 

“Using this model, companies can take a step back and assess how strong connections are within teams, across teams and with the organization and find opportunities for improvement,” Pearson explains.

Other Ways Leaders Can Create Connections

“A top reason employees stay—or leave—at an organization is tied to their manager relationship,” according to Andrea Couto, vice president of solution engineering at Betterworks. “To build stronger, authentic relationships, people managers will need to become highly relational-forming connections based on similar interests and listening in order to learn new perspectives and new ideas,” she says. “Pivoting from ‘managing’ employees to being coaches and performance enablers will be key.”

Companies can start to create a culture of belonging by listening to employees’ needs, notes Andrea Meyer, director of benefits at Worksmart Systems. “Balancing those requests with employer needs is essential but can be tricky. The HR department can help by liaising between upper management and employees to create guidelines that satisfy both parties. For many organizations, this compromise may lead to a hybrid work environment, allowing employees to spend a few days at home and a few days in the office. Hybrid workplaces permit employees to determine how much time they spend in a traditional office setting. These policies promote a better sense of belonging among fully remote and fully in-person employees by allowing freedom.”

Another key factor in cultivating a culture of connections is through the benefits companies provide. Meyer insists that benefits can either cultivate or destroy a sense of belonging. “Applicants rank the quality of an employer’s benefits as one of their top concerns when scrolling open positions, according to LinkedIn research,” she says. “Benefits act as additional compensation on top of an employee’s paycheck. But the cultural value of employer benefits goes far beyond a price tag, as evidenced by how benefits adapt alongside societal change.”

“We need each other,” says Ritu Bhasin, CEO and founder of Bhasin Consulting, Inc. and authorof The Authenticity Principle. “It’s important to be with people you care about and not become lost in your solitude,” Bhasin emphasizes. She suggests when you see others, reject the pressure to put on what she calls “permapositivity armor” and be who people expect, lost in meaningless banter and, “I’m good! You?” Instead, she recommends being courageously candid, honest and authentic with those around you to open the door to connection. Engage in the truth of how you’re feeling, even if it’s not “Good! And you?” all the time.  

She also advises that you surround yourself with “cloud relationships”: kind, compassionate, empathetic people who support and love you unconditionally. They are like clouds: soft and comforting safety nets, gently and generously lifting you up and giving you a safe space to find motivation, remind you of your purpose, voice concerns and opinions, and relieve emotional burdens.


  • Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

    Journalist, psychotherapist, and Author of 40 books.

    Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

    Bryan Robinson, Ph.D. is a professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, psychotherapist in private practice, and award-winning author of two novels and 40 nonfiction books that have been translated into 15 languages. His latest books are CHAINED TO THE DESK IN A HYBRID WORLD: A GUIDE TO WORK-LIFE BALANCE (New York University Press, 2023)#CHILL: TURN OFF YOUR JOB AND TURN ON YOUR LIFE (William Morrow, 2019), DAILY WRITING RESILIENCE: 365 MEDITATIONS & INSPIRATIONS FOR WRITERS (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2018). He is a regular contributor to, Psychology Today, and Thrive Global. He has appeared on 20/20, Good Morning America, The CBS Early Show, ABC's World News Tonight, NPR’s Marketplace, NBC Nightly News and he hosted the PBS documentary "Overdoing It: How To Slow Down And Take Care Of Yourself." website: