Social health in an age of overload

Written by
Julia Hobsbawm

03 Oct 2017

03 Oct 2017 • by Julia Hobsbawm

Never has today’s business leader faced more challenges: if it isn’t the need to connect every member of your workforce and consumer base digitally and to do so on multi platforms, it is the requirement to be ‘always on’ in terms of social media presence. So against this backdrop, how can you ensure your social health, asks Julia Hobsbawm

I would like to congratulate you for working in what can only be described as a hostile landscape.

Professional workers are now ‘blended selves’ whose home and work life blur constantly via connected technology and cultural and commercial shifts in working patterns -  from remote working to outsourcing. 

One word dominates all of this: that word is ‘social’. How can you control the social era in your business in a way which raises (persistently stagnant) productivity? Or which gains some of the 10 million European work days lost per annum to ‘stress’?

The challenges cannot be underestimated. A generation after the internet arrives we are drowning in ‘infobesity’, choking on a tangle of networks, and starved of time to meet the rising tide of challenges.

In the age of social media, and social networks it's helpful to look at what I call 'social health'. We all know the difference between a carb and a protein, how to value our sleep intake, our alcohol consumption. In fact the 'wellness' market globally is a multi trillion pound industry which is bigger than the arms trade. Everyone has health-related behaviours. They have become part of the culture.

New strategies around 'connectedness' are needed

The origins of wellbeing becoming mainstream can be traced, seventy years ago, to the creation of the World Health Organisation. Within its unchanged definition that health is ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing’. Today, when ‘social’ essentially means a technology and ICT-dominated workplace, new strategies and tactics around connectedness are clearly needed.

My antidote is to both put 'social health' front and centre of organisational responses to the Always-On era, but to do so with a simple 'remedy' based around a trinity I call 'The KNOT' - effective systems and management of KNOWLEDGE flows and trusted information, NETWORKS and a cultivation and networking programme involving looking at databases as 'peoplebases' centred around relationships not pure data and TIME - that is time management, timescale, timeframe.

Steps to create social health at work

Here are simple changes you can make - from the boardroom to the shop floor:

1) Treat diaries and calendars like bodies: be careful what goes in them. Make sure there is room to breathe in there, to think, to network, to build and broker relationships. Information is smart and moves in often unlikely, lateral ways.

2) Build an internal ‘knowledge dashboard’ of media, articles, prodcasts, broadcasts which build as diverse a set of ideas: network science shows that porous, diverse networks of knowledge yield the best results.

3) Start a pilot programme with a cohort of mixed executives and operatives: senior, junior, intergenerational, international. Give them six months to brainstorm and develop new patterns of connectedness which can work for your organisation based on current needs, not past assumptions.

Finally, build social health into appraisals, audits and performance management. You know it is the healthy option.

Julia is on the board of the European Workforce Institute and the author of Fully Connected: Surviving & Thriving in an Age of Overload, Published by Bloomsbury. She is speaking at the Workforce Institute's Always-On Con event later this month.