Making the most of every workplace interaction

Enjoying connections: making the most of interactions with new colleagues, customers, and patients every day

One of the many benefits of working your own way through Brigad in hospitality or social and medical care — typically very human-focussed industries — is that each new mission brings with it dozens of new people to meet. From team members to managers, customers and regulars, patients and their families — even the people you meet on your commute: the assistant at the corner shop where you stop to buy a bottle of water, or the complete stranger you stop in the street to ask for directions. Encounters and interactions like these are numerous every day, and not only can they have a significant influence on your day, they can also affect your deeper wellbeing and even your future.

When you consider that most people spend between eight and nine hours per day either at work or commuting to and from, it is understandable that some struggle to fit in time to socialise with their friends and family. After a two-hour round-trip commute and a typical seven-hour shift on your feet, sometimes the only thing you want to do is prepare some food then drop into the sofa for an evening in front of your favourite series. This scenario is very relatable, but it makes the social interactions we experience at work all the more important.

If maintaining close social ties with your loved ones is not compatible with your energy levels or free time during the working week, it is all the more essential to make the most of the interpersonal links you have at work. After all, interacting with those around you on a long-term or short-term mission is not only about socialising, it is also an opportunity to learn or improve skills, benefit from the experience of others, or even transmit your own expertise and leave a good impression for future missions.

It is all part of the Brigad experience — meeting new people all the time, learning from them, opening minds and horizons, progressing professionally, and understanding each other.

What does the science say about social interactions at work?

As you may expect, the workplace has long been studied from every possible angle in an enduring effort to understand how people work best, what gives them purpose, and how workers can feel fulfilled

Social interactions at work are no exception, and several scientific studies confirm the obvious benefits — and reveal some more surprising ones, too!

A recent study of 2000 British workers showed that 31% have lost sleep over stress about workplace interactions. This unease makes sense when you put social wellbeing in the context of Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs. As humans, we don’t just want to feel connected to those around us and included in social circles, we need these strong relationships in order to thrive. Humans are social creatures, and the bonds that we create — not only with our nearest and dearest, but also in the workplace — contribute to our health. Indeed, it is proven that both the quantity and quality of our social relationships can affect our mental and physical health and even our mortality risk. To further highlight the significance of human interaction, on a broader scale, Maslow places “belonging and love” right above safety, food, water, and warmth in the hierarchy of human needs.

Admittedly, we have all worked in teams where tension and conflict seem to dominate the daily agenda, so we should be able to recognise how damaging this can be for teams and the individuals concerned. It stands to reason that colleagues and teams that get along with each other are less stressed, happier, and, therefore, more productive. They are more likely to work well together, cultivating a more collaborative atmosphere. Workplaces should be a hub for developing relationships, idea generation, and mutual growth. More often than not, creativity in problem-solving thrives in these environments.

For hospitality and medical and healthcare business owners alike, it is essential to understand the importance of healthy and productive social interactions at work. The most effective wellbeing strategies include more than just the three concepts of physical, mental, and financial wellbeing. The fourth pillar that holds it all up is social wellbeing — just as important, yet often overlooked. 

Brigad’s top tips for making the most of every interaction when working with new people

That’s all well and good, but as a Brigader, you pick up shifts and work short-term missions in various businesses and teams in any given month. So, if you don’t always have time to foster long-term, meaningful relationships with those around you, how can your interactions at work contribute to your social wellbeing and professional development? Here are Brigad’s top tips:

  1. Every interaction counts

Sure, you may not be sticking around for very long in this workplace, but you should still give importance to every interaction you have with people in the business. 

We’ve talked in a previous article about the importance of making a good first impression, but that’s not all that counts. Your professional reputation is just as critical. What’s the difference? Well, your reputation can be defined as “what people say about you when you leave the room”. What do you want your reputation to be?

If you’re working back of house at a hotel, aside from the restaurant staff you will be working with directly, you will more than likely see dozens of staff passing through the kitchens and back corridors of the hotel. From reservation staff to operations managers, porters, and housekeepers — the staff may all be wearing different uniforms, but your interactions with each of them should be just as cordial, professional, and respectful. To paraphrase a cliché, treat people how you would like them to remember you treated them. Don’t forget, our industries are small, close-knit communities, and your reputation from one place can follow you to many others.  

  1. Make quick close connections by being yourself

The stressful nature of jobs in our industries tends to bring people together more quickly than colleagues working nine to five in an office. When you regularly see your co-workers on the early shift at 5am, or after midnight when everyone else has gone to bed — not to mention the physicality of our jobs — a unique type of connection is formed.

Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Yes, you are an industry professional that has been called in for your expertise to help a team out for a week or so, but showing personality and relatability can go a long way in helping you integrate the team quickly. People with whom you seek to create a strong personal tie are those that are most likely to show understanding if things go wrong and offer support at the peak of a shift’s rush.

  1. You already have one thing in common

Working relationships play a huge role in helping people adapt to new professional situations. Fostering healthy and friendly working relationships with the team helps you fit in and feel at home, making your mission so much more fulfilling. So, even if you know you are not staying long, take the time to get to know your colleagues on a personal level.

For example, during coffee or meal breaks, it can be tempting to keep your eyes fixed firmly on your phone before going back to the job at hand, so try to make an effort to be open and chat with someone else. Simple small talk can lead to more in-depth conversations about things you have in common, and you are guaranteed to have at least one thing in common with everyone in your new team: a passion for your industry. Start by talking about your experiences and ask about theirs. Don’t forget that every exchange is a potential networking opportunity that could help further your career in the future.

Showing an interest in what motivates your co-workers and what they are passionate about gives you a bigger picture of who they really are. 

Entrepreneur and author Margaret Heffernan explains that failing to understand the “emotional and intellectual resources each of us brings to the team” means that we approach our colleagues as “reduced versions” of themselves. She, too, links workplace relationships to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, noting that making even the shortest of interactions more meaningful can help us achieve the pinnacle of the pyramid: “With a better understanding of our peers, and the support of those around us when we undertake challenging work, we are able to achieve a higher level of self-actualisation”.

Every social interaction is a learning moment

Of course, we’re not saying that you should set out to become best friends with every person you meet during your missions. Although it is very common to make long-lasting connections through work, you are unlikely to experience this with everyone you meet. Instead, why not approach interpersonal interactions at work as learning experiences?

The human brain has a virtually limitless capacity to learn new things, and interactions with colleagues and superiors in the workplace and on short-term missions are perfect learning opportunities. Going into any situation at work with an open mind, ready to learn something new, is a fantastic approach to take in life.

As we saw with social wellbeing earlier, it is human nature to want to feel valued, and, often, managers tend to give praise spontaneously during informal situations in and out of work. From team drinks at the end of a busy shift to bumping into someone in corridors or travelling to and from different areas of the workplace — these micro exchanges and short interactions can be excellent opportunities for positive feedback

Similarly, the middle of a hectic shift may not be the time for your colleagues and managers to give you the helpful pointers and handy tips that could improve your performance. So, actively seeking out a couple of minutes with someone in the admin office of a hospital ward or by the ice machine in a bar is the perfect way to glean this information in an informal way

Don’t see it as a lecture or a training session, it is just a couple of seconds with the aim of helping everyone work together more harmoniously. Taking advantage of small windows of opportunity like this to interact with colleagues and superiors to learn something new or improve an existing skill can prove hugely beneficial to your mission with the company and, who knows, future missions, too!

Customers and regulars, patients and their families

Let us not forget, if you work front of house or on a ward, you meet dozens or even hundreds of new people every day: the customers in a hospitality setting or the patients in a medical and social care business.

They are, of course, the bread and butter of our industry, without whom the job would not exist.

So, why neglect the importance of the many varied and dynamic interactions we have with them all day every day? Even as a freelancer working temporarily with a company, the impact of your interactions with customers or patients can be wide-reaching — both for you and the business:

  • When you take the time to understand a customer or patient’s needs, you provide better service, leading to higher profits for the business, a better reputation for yourself, and an increased likelihood of getting added to the client’s “Favourites” to get priority on their future missions.
  • Customers (one time or regular) and patients (and their families) come from all walks of life. They all have wildly different life experiences, and many are eager to chat and share anecdotes, with you acting as a sounding board. While this helps customers and patients feel more comfortable and more at home (again, leading to better service), it is also an excellent opportunity for you to gain insight into different industries and acquire knowledge that you can bring up in future conversations. These anecdotes and nuggets of information will make for a more cultured mind, helping you stand out from the crowd, whether on a first date or at an interview for a future mission.
  • Of course, not everyone we encounter is an open book, so it is essential to learn how to adapt to each customer or patient’s expectations. Being a slightly different person for each customer or patient demands a high level of emotional intelligence, an essential skill in our industries, and one that is refined through micro interactions with people from all walks of life and in all states of mind.

Enjoying social interactions in a post-COVID world

In the world of work, whether an organisation and its employees flounder or flourish largely depends on the quality of the social relationships within the company. As we have discovered, social wellbeing is a primitive need, so interpersonal interactions — including in the workplace — can make you healthier, happier, and prove useful for learning new things. All the more reason to make the most of every opportunity to connect with others — from meaningful relationships with friends and family to micro connections with co-workers, managers, patients, and customers!

In the most recent few years, millions across the UK were deprived of social connections and the numerous benefits they bring. So, now that we are back at work and people are keen to take advantage of the joys and freedoms of summer, why not find your next mission on Brigad? Remember, you can improve your social wellbeing, and boost your professional development at the same time, by truly making the most of every interaction.

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