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European workers are lonely and have a 74% stronger intention to quit. Learn how to keep them.

September 8, 2022 - 8 min read

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European employees don't feel connected

Interaction doesn't equal connection

How disconnected workers and teams are hurting your business

The impacts of connection on attracting and retaining talent

Get insights into how to improve connection  

Europe is facing some of the gravest economic, energy, and environmental crises in decades. In July, inflation reached above 10% in the UK and 6% in France, rates the regions haven't experienced in over 35 years. Gas prices in Germany hit record highs, over €2 a litre — the equivalent of roughly $9 an American gallon.

Combine Russia's war on Ukraine, skyrocketing energy prices, upended supply chains, inflation, and the summer drought — and you get what leaders across Europe's organisations are facing today — unimaginable uncertainty.

In this climate, each day brings new business challenges. The best tool leaders have for navigating constant change are the people they work with. A strong sense of connection at work can make the difference between a workforce prepared for change and one that isn't. When people feel disconnected, lonely, and burnt-out, they are less innovative, less collaborative, and less likely to stay.

The latest research from BetterUp, The European Connection Crisis: Why community matters in the new world of work, highlights the state of connection across the European workforce, the impact of connection on business imperatives, and the science-backed solutions that can help. We surveyed over 1,000 workers in the UK, Germany, and France, evaluated data from over 150,000 BetterUp Members, and analysed 78 leading companies on Glassdoor to better understand how workers feel about connection at work in Europe and what happens for people and organisations when businesses get connection right.

European employees don't feel connected

The majority of European workers want more connection at work. According to Glassdoor data, 96% of organisations know the importance of relational skills, but our research shows that companies need to turn this awareness into action for their employees. 

51% of people don’t feel a sense of belonging at work

44% don’t feel a sense of connection to co-workers

27% don’t have even one friend at work

3 in 5 workers say their employers are not supporting social connection enoughCharts for use in blog articles_1164x654_1-1

Interaction doesn't equal connection

It's easy to assume that pandemic lockdowns and remote work are to blame for the loneliness we're experiencing, but BetterUp member data shows that social connection ratings have been declining for years — except in the UK. In 2018, the UK government identified loneliness as an epidemic worth an official ministry position and strategy. These initiatives may be making an impact, with BetterUp members saying they regularly interact with people who provide support and encouragement more today compared to 2019. 

But what about all our interactions via social media, email, WhatsApp, and Zoom? The research shows we are connecting more, with rates of meetings doubling on average across Europe, but still lonely. When it comes to the employee experience, interaction doesn't equal connection. 

Even those of us who are fully back in the office don't feel connected. In our study, in-office workers reported lower levels of social connection and sense of belonging compared to their hybrid-working peers. 

One reason tech and bringing everyone back to the office aren't solving the crisis is because people aren't trying. In France, over half of the workforce (57%) reports not putting in the effort to create quality relationships with their teams. People in the UK poll slightly better at 47%, but this still leaves essentially half of an organisation's greatest asset at risk. German workers fare far better in this regard, with only 25% of workers saying they don't put in the effort to bond with co-workers. 

How disconnected workers and teams are hurting your business

When we feel disconnected from the people we work with, it doesn't create the best environment for what organisations need from employees today — achieving more with less.

Our research shows that a low feeling of connection translates into people feeling anxious, isolated, stressed, and unsupported. It's no surprise these feelings arise, especially in the face of layoffs and reorgs that many workers are experiencing. It can feel like each week brings a new goodbye message from a treasured colleague. As people lose friends and teammates, the feelings of disconnection increase. This can lead to burnout and stress.

Charts for use in blog articles_1164x654_2-1

Without connection, people don't feel a sense of belonging. Without belonging, our research shows individuals, teams, and businesses are at risk. Disconnected teams are 57% less interested in exploring new perspectives, put in 43% less effort to listen to the ideas of others, and are 30% less agile compared to connected teams. 

The impacts of connection on retaining and attracting talent

The ripple effect of a low sense of belonging reaches farther than individual and team performance. Workers with lower levels of belonging report a 74% stronger intention to quit. People in Germany felt so strongly about their need for belonging at work that 89% of respondents said they would be more likely to leave. Both numbers present great challenges for organisations looking to hold on to their best people. 

In the UK, having friends at work — someone who truly knows you on a personal level — has a significant impact on whether employees look for a new job and quit. In contrast, in Germany and France, having friends at work doesn't significantly impact intent to leave. Workers in both countries can achieve a strong sense of connection and belonging from a wider range of workplace relationships — having a great boss, enjoyable co-workers, and a productive team can all fill their need for connection. 

The benefits of connection and belonging in retaining top talent are clear. It makes sense. The more tied we are to the people we work with and the company we work for, the more fulfilment and satisfaction we find in our jobs.

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Creating a culture of connection doesn't only work to keep people from leaving; it can attract them too. In France, 84% of workers said that social connection is moderately to extremely important in their job search criteria. Almost half of German and UK workers feel the same (49%). That's a massive amount of talent organisations are missing out on.  

Get insights into how to improve connection

While a lack of connection may be affecting you or your workforce, there are things you can do to address it. Learn the science-backed strategies to boost connection and belonging — creating a workplace that is both better for people and better for business. 

Unlock dozens of additional insights and learn the new role organisations and leaders must play in the full European Connection Crisis Report.

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Published September 8, 2022

Karen Saukas

Karen is a writer, editor, and storyteller with a decade of international communications experience focused on the intersection of human behavior and work. With a degree in psychology and communication studies, she enjoys researching topics she is passionate about — well-being, mental health, and the ever-changing world of work — to create human-centered content that helps people thrive. Karen was born and raised in Michigan but now lives in Munich, Germany, with her Bavarian husband and their young son. She is always working on her German skills.

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