Commentary: Staying connected lifts spirits

  • Published
  • By SMSgt Elise Redziniak, First Sergeant, AF Life Cycle Management Center

A sense of connectedness can do wonders for the morale and productivity of a workcenter.  What does being connected to your team mean to you?
Think back to a time when you were a part of a team that took the time to get to know one another to form relationships which in turn resulted in a high level of collaboration, production of solid projects, all while having fun!  This is the ideal work center that gives people the feeling of being connected to something bigger than themselves while each person is valued.
People spend a majority of their time in their work so it is even more important that healthy relationships. The work environment not only affects mental health but it can also have an effect on one’s physical wellbeing.  Connectedness can enhance a person and the overall team by reducing stress levels with a common understanding that their fellow teammates will be there for one another.  Lower stress levels aid in mitigating the feeling of burnout. 
Burnout occurs when there is a significant amount of stress that is felt by an employee which over time takes a toll on their emotional and physical health to where they cannot function as they once did in their job.  Other benefits of strong relationships in the workplace result in a sense of happiness and fulfillment.
There are ways to encourage and build connectedness in the work place.  One way is to offer activities that can help reduce stress.  I worked for a Commander who would open her staff meetings in an unconventional way by facilitating a breathing or mindfulness activity.  This was beneficial to lowering stress levels and allowing each person to take a minute to be in the moment while being deliberate in a mental break from their busy day.  Also, encourage members to take their exercise time during the work week.  This helps reduce stress and maintains physical health while being able to stay focused on tasks.
Another great way to encourage connection is through having fun together, work does not always need to be serious and has room for laughter while learning about one another and building camaraderie.  Some examples are through social activities as a group like yoga class, escape rooms, and outdoor events. The Force Support Squadron manages the UNITE program, which helps cover or offset costs for units to do these types of activities to promote teambuilding. 
Inviting families also helps build inclusiveness in generating connection.  Not too long ago I met a supervisor who does coffee chats with her team and they are to talk about anything but work for 30 minutes.  This is an excellent idea for building connections and to allow people the opportunity to share what is going on in their life which leads to better relationships and understanding of one another.
In addition to offering activities to reduce stress and encouraging teambuilding, emphasize the importance of inclusion which gives everyone a voice in the work center.  There are a variety of ways to ensure inclusiveness is embedded among the team. 
One way is to create ways to generate feedback in various methods such as a drop box, in person, or through survey monkey.  It’s important to have the venue where feedback is discussed and the way forward on the provided feedback.
Another great way to establish inclusion is to promote two-way mentorship where new members of an organization get the opportunity to be mentored by seasoned employees and have the ability to draw on their knowledge. 
Conversely, leaders can tap into new members creative and innovative suggestions.  This allows for active learning and growth at all levels of the organization while developing relationships from each tier of the team.
Other ways to encourage connection is by promoting early help seeking behaviors as a sign of strength and personal growth.  It takes courage to seek help when we are going through a storm in life. As a leader, it is important to routinely speak about helping agencies and the nuances associated with each one while encouraging members to use the services.  I’ve always enjoyed inviting helping agencies into the work center to give a face to the name, which can make it more personable and a bit easier for someone to take that first step in seeking help.  Being connected and having an understanding of one another helps to identify team members who are experiencing distress.
Lastly, get to know your people, interact frequently even if nothing comes out of it initially.  Establishing these relationships will help build connection and trust where people will feel comfortable to lean on you when they are in need of advice or a sounding board.  Building connections in the work place is vital in creating healthy and high performing teams where people will want to come to work while experiencing an overall sense of happiness.