Social Capital 01

5 ways to build social capital in the workplace

With working lives continuing to operate virtually, many people are becoming increasingly distant to their coworkers. As employee engagement has a significant impact on business success, the absence of the people element of a workplace requires consideration.

The most efficient businesses are those with employees who trust one another. When coworkers trust each other, projects are completed more effectively, time is used productively and employees are more engaged. People who felt highly trusted at work reported 74% less stress, 106% more energy, 50% higher productivity and 76% higher engagement at work than respondents at low-trust firms, according to a study published in the Harvard Business Review. This concept of mutual respect and trust is often referred to as “social capital”.

What is social capital?

Social capital is a set of shared values that encourage and allow people to work together to achieve a common goal. It’s all the positive aspects which come from humans interacting.

In the workplace, social capital helps a business achieve success by creating and fostering a sense of mutual values and respect, trust and a safe space for ideas and innovation to thrive. This concept applies to employees within your organisation as well as to clients and partnerships.

While this may seem like a straightforward approach, building social capital can be increasingly difficult as we continue to adjust to the new way of working. So, how can an organisation foster social capital amidst a global pandemic?

  1. Promote open communication. Encourage employees to engage with each other freely. COVID-19 has altered how we communicate, so pivoting to find productive new ways of developing these internal networks is crucial. Even asking others to share something informal about the weekend before jumping into the order of business can encourage more significant relationships to build and allow colleagues to identify connections that may not have been evident previously. Particularly as many companies continue to work remotely, consider developing a virtual buddy program. By creating matches based on mutual interests, employees can build relationships with their colleagues outside their team, department or even country.

  2. Find a shared identity. Establish employee resource groups (ERGs) and forums for employees to encourage relationships beyond their business line or team. These ERGs and forums can focus on anything from hobbies or themes surrounding diversity and inclusion. For example, such a group would be ideal for introverts (and their allies) in which to engage. Discussions around these interests build a shared identity and united values that contribute to strong social capital beyond initial connections. Don’t forget to promote ERGs through recruitment marketing to show candidates that they’ll belong. 

  3. Give feedback. Encourage 360 feedback or go bold and consider scrum teams. Trust and shared identity are key to building strong social capital, so removing hierarchy wherever possible can rapidly increase this sense of shared community and goals. And remember to act on the feedback to make positive changes.  

  4. Have honest conversations. Create space for employees to collaborate, help each other and share gratitude as a common occurrence. While some competition can be healthy, encouraging honest conversations with teams and being forthcoming with praise draws people together. Perhaps consider a peer-to-peer recognition programme so colleagues can reward each other for going the extra mile. Meanwhile, the typical performance review process can do more harm than good for building social capital as it encourages teams to pull apart from each other to be at the top. Social capital moves away from this concept and helps support business success through common goals, where all play a critical part. To boost social capital in the workplace, an increasing number of organisations have implemented a team-based bonus structure by rewarding employees for successful teamwork.

  5. Set your employees up for success. Empower your employees, whether client-facing or not, to have the tools to confidently represent your business outside of work. It’s easy to assume all employees can give a quick two-minute pitch on your business and it’s surprising how many will struggle with this in one way or another. Incorporating this knowledge as part of onboarding will help ingrain this idea from the get-go, making each employee an informed representative of your organisation which will help to create positive networking opportunities. 

Can you measure social capital?

Measuring social capital can be challenging, as much is subjective and plays out in different forms. Regular pulse surveys and check-ins can gauge how employees are feeling and in general, these scores will continue to improve as the social capital within your organisation grows.

With positive steps, social capital will lead to improved business success, a broader client pool which is highly engaged and strong attraction and retention of employees who are both happy and engaged in their work. 


Franki Crosse, Associate Director, Profile, A WilsonHCG Company


February 2020

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