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Our Need for Connection in the Workplace

Posted 5 years ago

Our need for connection extends beyond the personal. For most people, our need for connection is equally important within the workplace. Each of us wants positive interpersonal outcomes with our peers, direct reports and especially — our bosses. As behavioral analyst Pamela Brooks explains, this need for connection can even differ from generation to generation. She explains how this is especially true with the millennial generation, who bring an enthusiasm and innovation that’s unique. However, the connection we seek and what’s realistic can be two entirely different things. Pamela recounts the stories behind her research, while offering up her own recommendations for employees and employers alike.

Our Need for Connection in the Workplace

by Pamela Brooks

Everyone has a need to connect and belong. We all like to be recognized for who we are by our peers. However, many would say the need to connect is stronger in millennials than any other generation in the work place. They were raised to seek out recognition — not to get it just from their friends — but from their teachers and people in authority. In talking with several business owners, and even with a few millennials at a recent national conference, I was made vividly aware of how this plays out for both sides of the generation gap. One company has gone to great lengths to purchase a social networking platform for their medium sized business. They were told it would be a great way to connect with the millennial work force in their company and increase communication across departments that were not all in the same building. However it turned into a time management nightmare, because of the time it was taking the company’s leaders to answer all of the questions and comments posed by the millennial employees. While it was increasing communication, it was also increasing stress levels and not always producing proactive or productive communication.  The leaders were so overwhelmed by the number of hours they were spending they eventually got tired of replying to all of the messages. They just didn’t have the time needed to reply, leaving the millennial employees disconnected and at risk of losing trust in leadership, because the promise of communication was not always met. I heard from the other side at the same conference. A few millennials that came up to me and asked “How can I get my boss to hear me?” They had so many ideas of how the company could save money on a project or innovate, but they couldn’t get anyone to listen to them. They wanted to know how to connect with their leadership. So, what can be done about mending this generation GAP? How can we bridge the need to connect, with the time that is needed to create meaningful interactions and relationships?  The answer? Have the difficult conversation around the topic.  If nothing is said, the problem will persist. However, a clear discussion about the issue of how and when to communicate can set realistic boundaries for both sides. The co-creative and co-created conversations will lead to greater connection AND greater productivity. In the case of the company that purchased software, it may have been good to put down some guidelines for how the software could best be used. For example:

  1. How many messages could they realistically send, and to whom, looking for quality not quantity.
  2. How long would it be before they would potentially get a reply. Learning to respect that leaders have many people to reply to, so they do not have the ability to respond in-depth with everyone instantly.
  3. Don’t send every thought in your head; take two days to flesh out what you really want to say and think it through first.
  4. Find an answer to your question or a solution by talking with someone face-to-face that works near you first.
  5. If there is a problem, think it through first. Come up with a potential solution or a possible outcome that you would like to see instead.

In the case of the millennials seeking greater connectivity to their boss, they need to have patience. They need to know that sometimes it takes more than just a few weeks to create the connections they are seeking. They also need to find out what the rules of engagement are in their organization. I know in several of the organizations that I have worked with that the owner/CEO was in the process of stepping down and trying to step away from their own company, so they were in the process of passing the reigns, so to speak, to those under them. In this case, the person on top may not want to have connection with the new employees, not because they don’t care, but because they are moving back. Understanding this would change the perspective of feeling neglected and focus the actions to connect with the person that needs to hear their ideas. It is also important for the new generation to learn to speak the language of the older generation to be heard. What do they see as important? What is the mission of the company? How does what they see as a potential solution, or way of saving money, help the company to fulfill its mission? Learning to put their ideas in the right framework can help to open minds. Asking for permission to present ideas and finding out when the best time to present them can also help.


Pamela Brooksour need for connection founded Cornerstone Consulting over ten years ago, out of her passion for understanding human performance and human performance potential. Her interest in performance started many years earlier as a collegiate athlete and advisor. She wanted to understand what drives people to succeed and then help them tap their strengths and confront personal obstacles so they could increase their potential for success Pam is also the Vice President of Education at the Robert S. Hartman Institute, where she coordinates their efforts on a global level. Her directive is to increase both the educational & research efforts of the Institute, while launching new directives to increase the application and teaching of Robert Hartman’s work in Value Judgment and the axiology’s many applications.