It's okay to be social



Every year, without fail, a slew of news stories proclaim that March Madness brackets and the ensuing watercooler banter will account for billions in lost productivity. It’s no wonder that for some organizations, the mere mention of social spaces makes them bristle. And we get that. On its face, the idea of allowing people to freely mill about and socialize throughout the workday sounds like the opposite of productivity. But is it?


Consider six different perspectives that challenge this idea:







The Philosopher


Aristotle once wrote that a human is “by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.” Even 2,000 years ago, long before the dawn of modern science, the father of western philosophy could see that our social character was inseparable from our identity and our connection to society.



The Anthropologist


Of all the species in the animal kingdom, humans possess the largest brains relative to body size. Group that with the fact that a species’ brain size directly correlates to the size of its social group and you can conclude that our large brains evolved to prioritize human interaction. Using primate brain size as a benchmark, anthropologist Robin Dunbar was able to extrapolate the maximum number of social connections a human could maintain. The number? 150. Interestingly enough, in his book, The Tipping Point, Malcom Gladwell recounts the story of Gore-Tex, whose management structure requires they build a new office anytime their headcount gets too high. The number? 150. 



The Neuroscientist


Matthew Lieberman, a neuroscientist from UCLA and author of Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, makes the case that being socially connected is not just an artifact of millions of years of evolution, but essential to our survival. “In a sense, evolution has made bets at each step that the best way to make us more successful is to make us more social.” His research has shown that even at rest, the brain defaults to a social state; years of evolution have trained resting brains to be best prepared to reactivate within a social context. 




The Psychologist


Idle chitchat in the office (March Madness talk included!) is not only good for people, it’s good for business. That’s the findings of Alex “Sandy” Pentland, a psychologist and computer scientist at MIT’s Media Lab. Whether they realize it or not, people socializing in the office are constantly collecting information about norms and culture. “We are part of a social fabric,” Pentland says, “and our basic human nature is to pay attention to other people and share mood and attitudes. That’s really the core of who humans are.” In a study that tracked employees moving throughout the office, Pentland found those who had the most social interactions and connections were among the company’s most successful employees. 



The Recruiter


Pat Wadors, who until recently served as LinkedIn’s Head of Global Talent, coined the term “DIBs.” In her efforts to address the companies needs for (D)iversity and (I)nclusion, she found something missing from the discussion: a need to (B)elong. “Our brains are hardwired to motivate us toward connection and belonging— it’s how we survive and thrive,” she writes. “Not everyone has that same feeling of belonging where they work, which is a problem. Creating this culture of belonging is necessary for a healthier company, unleashing the very real value of a diverse workforce, and achieving diversity of thought at all levels.” 



The Employee


Surveys conducted by Gallup found that people not only seek connections in the office, but claim the social aspects of employment are among the major reasons they work. While findings span the gender divide, this sentiment was particularly pronounced among women. Women who claimed to have a best friend at work were twice as likely to be engaged as women without a work friend. The survey discovered that a best friend at work meant an employee was less likely to switch jobs and more likely to have a trusting relationship with their colleagues, leading to greater welling-being and overall productivity. Writing for Gallup, Annamarie Mann summarizes, “When employees possess a deep sense of affiliation with their team members, they are driven to take positive actions that benefit the business—actions they may not otherwise even consider if they did not have strong relationships with their coworkers.”





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