Focusing on Social Health

EVIDENCE SHOWS THAT SOCIAL CONNECTION IS IMPORTANT PHYSICAL HEALTH, COGNITIVE FUNCTIONING AND CAN EVEN COMBAT THE RISK OF EARLY MORTALITY, WRITES DAVID CASEY.

Physical and mental health receive a large amount of attention in both our workplaces and lives, but social health receives far less attention and can fall off the agenda and be forgotten. The Grant Study is a 75 year longitudinal study from the Study of Adult Development at Harvard. It tells us life is all about connections and is the number one factor to happiness. The Blue Zones are areas of the world where people live the longest lives, consistently reaching age 100. Social connection is a key pillar for these centenarians within these zones to live longer and happier healthier lives.

Many people consider social connection to be a basic human need that affects all aspects of life. Although social connections are arguably best known for their impact on psychological wellbeing, there is now compelling evidence demonstrating their importance for physical health, cognitive functioning and even risk for early mortality. In fact, people who are more socially connected are not only happier, less sad and more satisfied with their lives, but they also age more slowly, heal wounds more quickly and live longer overall. On the other hand, having few or weak social connections entails a risk for early mortality that is comparable to and exceeds the risk related to obesity and air pollution.

We could believe that when we talk about social connection, we’re talking about our intimate ties, such as those with our spouses or romantic partners, kids, extended relatives and close friends. These close relationships are undoubtedly important for social connection, but our level of social connection also encompasses a variety of social links, including some that aren’t necessarily considered to be close intimate relationships. In fact, there is solid evidence supporting the impact of both strong and weak social links within larger social networks on a range of health outcomes. To truly comprehend the entire scope of social influence, we need to take into account the people we depend on, have contact with and social snack on a regular basis including families, schools, workplaces, as well as communities.

“THERE IS SOLID EVIDENCE SUPPORTING THE IMPACT OF BOTH STRONG AND WEAK SOCIAL LINKS WITHIN LARGER SOCIAL NETWORKS ON A RANGE OF HEALTH OUTCOMES.”

Relationships may have a substantial and long-lasting impact on our health and wellbeing because many adults spend more time at work than with their own families. People in a range of work situations, jobs and hierarchies may be impacted by these relationships or a lack thereof. For instance, the majority of CEOs report feeling lonely according to a recent Harvard Business Review CEO snapshot study. Others in leadership roles have also reported experiencing isolation and the consequences that come with it. As a result, it’s possible that loneliness perceptions are widespread at work.

A one-size-fits-all strategy is likely to fail since there is no one cause for social detachment and no one recipe that we can all follow to foster connection and reduce isolation. But research does suggest a few possible important components. A multifactorial definition of social connection implies that in order to successfully handle risk and protection, it is necessary to address each of the components when addressing social connection in the workplace. Social health is both the structure, meaning the number of relationships we have, and also aspects such as belonging, quality and function. In order to truly address this issue, tactics that promote high quality interactions must be put into place in order to develop high quality connections. Additionally, initiatives could entail leadership development that encourages linkages and open communication between management and workers in order to accomplish shared objectives. More attention should be put into boosting positivity, trust and collaboration, as well as encouraging a sense of worth and respect among co-workers – all of which have been associated with healthier relationships and wellbeing. In order to promote a good work/life balance, organisations must develop policies and initiatives that encourage meaningful interactions, both inside and beyond the workplace. Longer hours do not always translate into more productivity, but they do take time away from spending time with family, friends and enjoying life outside of work. According to research, it’s crucial to have a variety of relationships, for example, a growing body of research suggests that network diversity (a diversity of social roles) influences a range of outcomes, including better immune functioning and neurological health.

Additionally, studies have demonstrated that workplace diversity can enhance critical thinking, creativity and financial outcomes. Different methods and viewpoints may be offered by leaders and those from diverse backgrounds, which could result in superior performance outcomes. Similar to this, having a variety of relationship types can help one access a variety of resources (such as companionship, support, counsel and affection), all of which can have an impact on one’s mental and physical well-being.

 

Dave Casey is DeCare’s Head of Health Promotion and a Doctorate Candidate of Trinity College Dublin.

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