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How companies are using coaching to build connection, community, and commitment

July 12, 2022 - 15 min read


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Workplace connection is falling short

Three ways companies are fostering connection, building community, and strengthening commitment

Rethinking connection

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Connection has been in freefall. Prepandemic, loneliness was already endemic. Now? The workplace today lacks the dynamism and organic energy needed to foster a sense of connection, belonging, and commitment to each other. There’s the rub. You might wonder, why should I care about connection — on my teams or across my organization? 

“The ability to build community and to keep that collaboration going is ever important. There’s a desire to perform in a better way. There’s a desire to be able to adapt to a situation that’s allowed our people to grow and flourish.”

Cindy Noble, Chief People Officer, Compass Group

Why care about the state of connection? Because, when your workforce is lonely and disconnected, it hurts your business. Employees want connection, and they need it. Without it, they lose the motivation to help each other, to extend trust or take risks, and to put forth the discretionary effort needed to get past hard problems and work through misunderstandings.

In short, without connection to others, employees lose their commitment to each other, the organization, and even the customer.

43% of employees don’t feel a sense of connection to co-workers and 38% don’t trust their co-workers. One-third say they aren’t putting in much effort to build relationships with coworkers, either.

On the face of it, that’s bad for business at a time when economic turmoil and widespread volatility are making just about everything in the workplace and the business environment more challenging. We’re asking employees to dig deep, to be creative, to be resourceful, to be committed. Can they? Will they? And what can leaders do to make a difference for their organizations?

To find those insights, BetterUp Labs dove into Member data, conducted surveys, and analyzed Glassdoor data. We also looked at our customers. We wanted to know how progressive organizations were building human connection in ways that might affect their ability not just to survive today but to develop and sustain talent and capabilities for tomorrow.


Workplace connection is falling short

“We need MORE social connection, not less.”

Matt Dodson, Manager of Organizational Development, Chevron

The majority of employees are dissatisfied with the depth and breadth of connection they experience in the workplace. Further, attention from their leaders seems to be missing — at least that’s how employees see it. Our analysis revealed that employees aren’t satisfied that connection is a priority or even getting enough airtime from leaders today. 

And while today’s employees may be most vocal about flexibility and balance in work arrangements, their dissatisfaction in connection reflects an intuitive awareness of how much connection matters to individuals. Our research shows that not only does it matter to employee experience and job satisfaction, connection is also crucial for professional growth and career advancement.

Download The Connection Crisis: Why community matters in the new world of work

Some companies are figuring it out.  and succeeding

Some companies were ahead of the game: by choice and necessity. Whether they acted quickly to support a workforce stretched and stressed on the frontlines or recognized the mounting burnout, disengagement, and turnover in remote and hybrid workforces, companies that make the connection benefit.  

Companies that are seen as having greater connection in the workplace are more able to attract and develop great talent. They are recognized and rewarded in the competitive labor market and benefit from a stronger employer brand, easier hiring, and employees that choose to stay, and grow, with the company.

Companies with high connection scores:

  • 32% higher Glassdoor ratings than peer companies
  • 14X more likely to be named a "Best Places to Work"
  • 25% more likely for employees to recommend the company to a friend

“I don't know how to explain it other than it’s a difference in energy and how I approach the work. I may be more willing to take it on versus leave it for whoever else I think is responsible for it.” 

Lori Gentles, Chief People Officer, City of Santa Monica

Three ways companies are fostering connection, building community, and strengthening commitment

Companies, including our customers, aren’t solely focused on social connection in the workplace. Not in those words. Yet, so much of what HR, talent, and business leaders are concerned with ties back to connection.

The initiatives, policies, and practices that can make a difference in workplace connection and business outcomes are varied. 

The experience of meaningful connection varies, too. Because people have to feel connection, there's no single way to improve connection for your workforce. Instead, leaders can foster connection in the workplace by creating different types of opportunities.

Consider three ways that our BetterUp customers have used coaching to build community and connection.

1. Connection through shared experiences, building peer relationships and a stronger culture

Feeling a sense of connection is important to the employee experience. But actually building connections to others is crucial for professional growth and career advancement. One of the startling findings in the research is the shrinking network size for workers, particularly those working remotely. It isn’t just about having a close friend or two, we have far fewer “bridging ties” in our workplaces today. 

Our relationships within our teams, with customers and partners, and with peers across the organization ultimately drive performance and the ability to deliver outcomes, especially for complex challenges in dynamic environments.

While many people engage in online networking, nothing beats a shared experience for accelerating connections and establishing deeper relationships.

All these people actually found they had an increase of really close, personal connections by five people. I cannot give that to somebody. I can't buy that. They experienced it just by being a part of a coaching circle.

Matt Dodson, Manager of Organizational Development, Chevron

Organizations as varied as Chevron, Google, and the City of Santa Monica have implemented peer-based Coaching Circles™ to create meaningful shared experiences that do double duty fostering connection while developing key skills that strengthen performance.

Meeting for a weekly session across 6-8 weeks, managers engage with a small set of global peers around important, weighty topics. Facilitated by a coach, these sessions are a safe space to talk about similar experiences with peers they don’t work with while also showing up with more vulnerability and authenticity to each other in a way that helps connections form. 

Sometimes being a product manager can feel really isolating. They desire peer-to-peer connection and community, so creating the opportunity to bring PMs together, to not only learn from each other, but to do so with a certified coach who can guide the conversation and draw out insights is something really exciting for us. 

Lauren Kelly, Head of L&D, Product Managers, Google 

2. Connection through commitment, one relationship at a time 

One side-effect of the pandemic: employees at all levels re-evaluated their relationship to work and their companies. 

Now many companies need employees to recommit to the organization and their coworkers. For employees who were on the frontlines especially, getting them to make that commitment starts with organizations and leaders demonstrating their commitment to the workforce. 

Research has shown that managers have the most significant influence over the employee experience, their resilience and sense of belonging as well as their growth and performance. Managers build connection through the opportunities they create and the behaviors they model. When managers champion connection, their direct reports do, too. Direct reports put in 35% more effort to build connections with others and 14% more effort to make others feel valued and seen.

We wanted to help our managers really create a stronger muscle around providing feedback and coaching. What we found is that our leaders are more engaged with their teams. And it's created this ripple effect of individuals more prone to having conversations about development and doing it in a way that's constructive and meaningful and intended to help people grow.

Christina Lomax, VP of Talent and Development, Compass Group

For companies such as WarnerMedia, NetApp, and Compass Group supporting managers as whole people is a key element of creating the conditions for productive relationships. It fosters social connection in the workplace by creating the conditions for thriving in the individual and developing the skills that encourage belonging. The focus on the Whole Person™ can change the team dynamics in ways that set up a virtuous cycle over time.

We find that there's a camaraderie within the team. There is trust with your manager. They feel authentic, they're able to perform at their best. They recognize when they're stuck and feel comfortable asking for help. By building that psychologically safe environment, we're increasing productivity, we're increasing happiness at work and engagement of our employee base.

Tina Gupta, VP Talent Strategy, explained how at WarnerMedia


3. Building community through supporting communities 

The past two years were hard on everyone. They included periods of time that were especially hard on working parents, underrepresented groups, and veterans. Race, gender, family status, and background intersected to create both common and unique challenges for different parts of the workforce. 

Many companies had to jump in with extra support to help their employees. These supports had a silver lining. Many companies saw the formation of more and stronger employee resource groups with broad and active participation. 

Our inclusion efforts are an opportunity for people to feel like they're part of a group, like they're part of a community and as such they feel a sense of belonging and value. That's important to us because we know that this is what helps our company to thrive and helps make business impact.

Erinne Arias, Global Program Lead at VMware

At companies like VMWare, NetApp and WarnerMedia, DIB coaching and other specialty coaching and resources helped employees feel more supported and empowered to get through challenges that extended beyond their work role.  Each coach relationship also provided a meaningful point of connection at a time when employees needed it.

Coaching helped working parents feel less alone in navigating a sometimes untenable situation while also providing tangible tools and skills to help. Coaching for Black employees and other underrepresented minorities provided a safe space for employees to work through difficult experiences while also providing tools, resources, and skills development.  

Extended network coaching for topics like grief support, parenting, nutrition, and sleep helped create an environment where people felt supported in the moment for whatever unexpected challenges they encountered. That support fosters community and can open the door for connection. 

When people think of getting help from work, they think of these old-time benefits that are tough to approach and they never get used … When you see people say, I have a better relationship with my daughter or I had a death in the family and I was able to handle it better because of my coach, that's mind- blowing.”

Larry McAlister, former VP Global Talent, NetApp


Rethinking connection

It isn’t about discarding the old team happy hours and team-building events, but social connection in the workplace is too important to leave to chance.

Now, when we're video-meeting more than we’d like, it takes some effort to use our time and technology to form and strengthen meaningful relationships. With thoughtful development opportunities, organizations can amp up the community-building, connection-potential of every day at work.

Connection is undoubtedly deeply personal. But when employees lack connection, it also threatens broader teams, systems, and the organization. 

Connection is the basis for everything else a company wants. It is prerequisite for providing feedback and coaching, for building agile, winning teams, and for creating cultures of constant learning. With connection we find our work and our lives more satisfying, and we lean into creating more satisfying communities where people are more likely to help each other grow.

Best of all, connection is addressable. That’s good for the company, and it’s great for the people.

Get access to all the insights

Unlock dozens of additional insights, and learn what organizations and leaders can do about it in the full Connection Crisis Report. 


Published July 12, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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