03 Oct 2022

In our world of hashtags & followers, human connection matters

12 years ago, my beautiful 24-year-old brother Will tragically took his life very unexpectedly.


He was a wonderful person. Charismatic, wickedly fun, loyal, generous, smart, and soon to finish his law degree, a talented sportsman and keen tennis player. Will was loving and open with all those in his life, and he was loved by so many.


I share this personal story, simply as a reminder that every one of us have the gift to positively impact someone else’s life. Every person, every single one is worthy, loved and enough just as they are.


And we need to make sure people know this.


We all have great days. We all have rotten ones. We have differing ideas and opposing opinions. Every one of us is vulnerable at times, whether we admit it or not. Life dishes each of us challenges of sorts.





Over the last 10 years since tragically losing my own brother, I have had the privilege to be involved with the R U OK? organisation. I have come to deeply understand and share publicly the importance of our everyday human connection.


Put simply. Everyone needs connection. We are human. We all have great days. We all have rotten ones. Life dishes each of us challenges of sorts. In the 12 years since Will has died, my own commitment is to support people realise their gift to positively impact someone else’s life. We each give this gift freely through showing genuine interest in others, having honest conversations, and being a little more vulnerable with ourselves and each other.





Mental health often has us thinking ‘experts’. The enormity naturally sees most of us shy away believing the job is best left to a health expert. Of course, experts play a huge role. But none of us need formal qualifications to connect with others. In 2022 R U OK’s campaign shone just this light. It is our connections at the most grass roots level – with friends over coffee, in the office during a genuine moment, or on the sports field post-match. These connection moments are what prevents us reaching crisis point, and they don’t require any qualifications.





Most of the time, when challenge presents for someone, we don’t have the answers. And that is ok. Our job is to be firmly connected with the people in our work and life so that when the good stuff happens, we talk about it. And when the messy stuff happens, we talk about that too.


Feeling connected at work is a factor of both our quality and quantity of relationships at work. Since 2020 these relationships have been in rapid decline. A recent 2022 study by Forbes found people need to have relationships with 5 friendly colleagues at work to feel connected, and they need 7 to feel like they really belong.


Work used to be a primary place to make friends and develop important connections, but our altered ways of working are influencing everything from employee’s happiness and wellbeing to organisational attraction and retention. In 2020 Harvard Business Review reported those with a good friend at work were 30% happier than those without a good friend. In 2022, there is a 30% increase in people globally missing friends personally and professionally, as a result many are struggling with extreme feelings of social isolation and in some instances feelings of depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses.





The last years has placed increasing strain on this very concept of connection. In many ways we are facing a connection crisis. In a workplace setting this has never been more evident. How many of us have been craving deeper friendship through work, that feeling of meaning and purpose, belonging and community?


On a personal level feeling connected is often described as having purpose and meaning. Recently there has been much debate about this idea and the mental health crisis it threatens to cause. The argument here being, that people will not always find greater purpose in the jobs they perform or the organisations they work for. If we continue to tell young people they must articulate greater purpose to have meaningful work and life, this indeed is a recipe for a mental health crisis.





We may not be able to find greater meaning in every job that exists, but we can help every single person foster meaning and connection in no matter what job they do, or workplace they work in. Every single person brings contributions and value to the table. And every single person has passions; things they do that light them up.


Ask yourself:


  1. What do you do that brings the greatest value to those you work with?
  2. And of all the things you do at work, what do you love doing the most?
  3. Then ask your colleagues (and your family!). Share these things with each other.
  4. Now lean into these things. Help everyone lean into their greatest contributions and passions.


When we create work environments where each person can bring and prioritise their unique contributions and passions, to whatever they choose to do, we are supporting people to know they are valued.


Here, we are cultivating high performance yes, but we are also cultivating rich human connections, where collectively we feel our purpose, and enjoy the meaningful impacts.





While our contributions and passions help positively fuel our connections with each other. We need to be mindful of the negative health consequences that disconnection can also fuel in the workplace.


The overused but important buzz word ‘burnout’ – a now common phenomena amounting from high pressure, over long sustained periods with no rest or recovery. The World Health Organisation defines burnout as exhaustion, chronic stress and overwhelm as we move through our days in a fight or flight response. For some the disconnection from our work environments and people we work with, has fuelled an incessant need to prove ourselves, and ‘be forever on’, which indeed, are ripe conditions for burnout.


And yet while burnout feels somewhat socially acceptable; as we glorify ourselves as ‘busy and useful and important’, we don’t talk enough about the opposite end of the spectrum called ‘boreout’. The BBC defines boreout as, being perpetually bored because of lack of challenge, lack of recognition, and lack of social connections and meaningful purpose shared with others. The negative impacts of boreout are just as debilitating on individuals and teams.


What type of connections or disconnections are present in your workplace, or within your team? Do the connections feel real? Does it feel psychologically safe to share not only the wins, but where there might be a struggle, or some extra support needed?





Challenge and complexity and change is all around us. It’s not going away.


We need to be thinking about getting people out of the danger burnout and boreout zones and into ‘the stretch zone’. The stretch zone is foundational to high performance BUT also to cultivating a psychologically safe environment.  In the stretch zone, individuals can resiliently step up to challenge, share ideas freely, speak up when they need help, or challenge the status quo if something doesn’t feel right. It is these work conditions that foster our most genuine connections, belonging and optimal wellbeing.


Being stress self-aware is the start point to playing in the stretch zone:


  • Can you describe and locate your stress?
  • What situations trigger stress for you?
  • Do you react in the moment or after?
  • How do you feel when you multi-task versus period of deep work flow?
  • Ask yourself, what are you doing when you are in the stretch zone?


Organisations and leaders must champion this ‘stretch zone’ mindset too. As a leader, do you allow for high performance followed by rest and recovery? Do you make time for genuine connection with team members, have regular meaningful conversations about work & life, take the time to give honest feedback? According to Harvard Business Review, The #1 factor that influences how a person feels about their employer – “Does my boss care about my life outside of work”. Do you take the time to ask those you lead?





Our work lives contribute hugely to our mental state. But so do our personal lives and they also show up in our behaviours at work too.


Let’s think about the general signs that can be apparent when someone is struggling.


According to R U OK?, there are typically 3 types of signs we can be aware of when someone may be struggling:


  1. WHAT THEY ARE SAYING – think about how others are communicating. Are they expressing a negative view about themselves, concerned about the future, worried they are a burden to others, describe unusual feelings of being overwhelmed, also saying not much?


  1. WHAT ARE THEY DOING – observe their behaviors. Are they withdrawing, experiencing mood swings, sleeping, or eating more or less, not turning up to work activities, late to meetings, not joining in the discussion, a change in demeanor?


  1. WHATS GOING ON IN THEIR LIFE – be aware of their general life circumstance. Have they encountered a job change, facing financial difficulty, lost someone, or something they care about, faced work pressures, are they staring down burnout or boreout, are they socially isolated?


Knowing the signs of possible struggle puts us in a more knowing position to be able to help before any crisis point.




When we feel hesitancy to connect with someone that may be struggling try and pop your empathy front and centre.


This can be easier said than done. But remember, empathy is not connecting to someone’s experiences, it is connecting to the emotions that underpin the experience.


Our job, as humans & leaders, is to connect and to simply take the perspective of someone else.


If someone’s struggle is being stuck down a hole, empathy is not jumping in the hole with them, taking on their emotions or trying to fix their struggle. If their issues become yours, you have two people stuck in the hole.


So, if you have not experienced what someone else may be, remember, empathy is connecting to the feeling under someone’s experience, and not the experience itself. If you have ever felt grief, disappointment, shame, fear, loneliness or anger, you are well-qualified to reach out and provide support.


Often, we just need the courage to keep practicing & building our empathy skills.




It takes enormous courage to admit our struggles, and almost just as much to want to get down in the weeds with the person facing the mess.


Right in the centre of this terrifying courage, lies the gold to unlocking true human connection, our willingness to be vulnerable with each other.


To personally say – I’m not perfect, I failed. I’m struggling.  But I am worthy.


To say together in our workplaces – yes, we work hard but we recover. We listen, without judgement. We give honest feedback, with empathy. We recognise the wins, and we recognise the brave failures.


Every time we live vulnerability, we give others permission to be vulnerable too. It’s ok to not be ok. That’s life. It can be messy.


So, ask yourself when did you last show vulnerability? And if you haven’t for a while, ask yourself what is the worst thing that could happen?


My brother’s Will’s death left me with the opportunity to share the importance and our gift of human connection.  My hope is that every single one of us can use this gift to positively impact someone else’s life, every day.


#humanconnection #mentalhealth #wellbeing


Poppy Griffiths is a professional coach and Director of UnlimitU a high-performance consultancy which supports the inclusion of working parents, women in leadership and the mental wellbeing of teams. If you are interested in private or organisational coaching, workshops, or speaker programs, please get in touch. poppy@unlimitu.com.au  


Poppy is UnlimitU's founder and principal success coach. "Every human has more potential, hidden, held back or in the making"