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ATD Blog

Defeat Disconnection With Development

Wednesday, March 2, 2022
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Long before the coronavirus, the United States was experiencing a devastating epidemic—one of loneliness. Using the term epidemic may seem insensitive or appear to trivialize the devastation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, lack of connection has taken an extraordinary toll on physical and psychological well-being and has only been exacerbated in the past two years in both our personal and work lives.

Social disconnection has physiological implications, affecting blood pressure, immunity, and inflammation, and presenting through other health risks such as obesity, physical inactivity, and likelihood to engage in addictive behaviors such as chain smoking.

On the flip side, social connection paints a hopeful picture. Studies show social cohesion and relationships enhance both individual and organizational health. Benefits like a heightened sense of well-being and purpose, elevated cognitive functioning and learning, greater resilience, and reduced burnout build a compelling human case for connection.

The benefits of social connection in a business context are equally significant. Employees with social connections exhibit more engagement, stick around longer, incur fewer injuries, contribute to knowledge sharing and innovation, produce more, and perform better than those without.

Development is an important tool managers can use to create greater employee connection and growth within an organization. Applied thoughtfully and in collaboration with employees, career development can re-establish and strengthen a worker’s connection to their manager, teammates, and the larger organization and deliver real business results.

Managers’ Connections With Their Employees

The simple act of engaging in a career or development conversation with an employee creates connection, sending a message that the employee matters and the manager cares. Exploring people’s interests, strengths, priorities, and aspirations contributes to an intimate social interaction. The time invested and the trust built between a manager and their employees go a long way toward forging stronger ties—ones that enhance engagement, satisfaction, and results.

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Managers don’t need formal processes or systems to make this happen. All they need are the genuine commitment to connect, curiosity, and a couple of great questions like these to spark reflection and true engagement in their one-on-one’s and ad hoc conversations:

  • Which of your skills and superpowers are responsible for your current success? How can you leverage them for future success?
  • What would enable you to take your current contributions to the next level?
  • What do you wish you knew or knew more about?
  • What would you like to accomplish?
  • What kind of work do you want to do?
  • How would you describe the brand you’re trying to build in our organization?

Such questions allow managers and employees to explore growth opportunities and co-create next steps to greater capacity and contribution while cultivating connection.

Employees’ Connection to Others

Much of what we learn is from others. As a result, development that leverages that 20 percent of the 70-20-10 model is an obvious vehicle for battling disconnection. Coaching, mentoring, job shadowing and observation, apprenticeships, and shadow assignments: these and other strategies enable learning and growth inside the organization with a social twist. Employees meet new people, expand their networks, and generate a sense of community that enhances belonging, strengthens the organization’s social fabric, and builds skills, capabilities, and effectiveness.

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Employees’ Connection to the Organization

Working remotely for the past two years, employees frequently express a sense of detachment from the organization itself. Bumping into colleagues on the way to coffee, getting informal project updates over lunch, and looking into the eyes of customers are situations that no longer occur; the lack of these experiences has distanced some employees from the organization’s mission and culture.

Development is a helpful reconnection strategy. Managers can use these opportunities to reinforce mission, vision, and values. They can create an unambiguous breadcrumb trail from what someone is learning to what’s most important to the organization. If, for instance, a manager is helping an employee enhance a skill like listening, the manager should put it in context. By sharing how listening is central to honoring the voice of the customer, the manager connects the dots for the employee on how it’s that voice that offers the insights necessary to improve service and innovate products that improve lives. Linking employees back to the big picture connects them to the organization and everyone else who is part of that ecosystem.

Development has long been acknowledged as a powerful strategy for driving greater engagement and performance, but it’s taking on even greater significance now as a tool to mitigate the sense of disconnection within today’s workforce. Enhanced skills, greater ability to contribute, and employees who feel connected to their managers, peers, and the organization: These benefits should put development at the top of every manager’s to-do list.

About the Author

Julie Winkle Giulioni is a champion for workplace growth and development and helps leaders optimize talent and potential within their organizations with consulting, keynote speeches, and training.

Julie is the author of Promotions Are So Yesterday: Redefine Career Development. Help Employees Thrive. and co-author of the international bestseller Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want. She is a regular columnist for Training Industry magazine and SmartBrief and contributes articles on leadership, career development, and workplace trends to publications including The Economist.

Named by Inc. magazine as a Top 100 Leadership Speaker, Julie’s in-person and virtual keynotes and presentations offer fresh, inspiring, yet actionable strategies for leaders who are interested in their own growth as well as supporting the growth of others.

Her firm, DesignArounds, creates and offers training to organizations worldwide and has earned praise and awards from Human Resource Executive magazine’s Top Ten Training Products, New York Film Festival, Brandon Hall, and Global HR Excellence Council.

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