Human beings have many needs that must be addressed on a day-to-day basis. One of these is social needs. Though not as basic as the need for food, water, and shelter, the desire to belong to a community, to build positive relationships with others, is high on our list of priorities. Many of us fulfill at least part of our social needs through work. A positive work environment fosters that sense of belonging, and in turn, creates happier, more productive employees.

Why is it important to be attuned to social needs at work?

We intentionally address social needs in the hopes of fostering employee loyalty, increasing productivity, reducing turnover, and even increasing innovation. Addressing employees’ social needs can give a small and nimble organization some advantage over larger organziations even when they cannot afford the top salaries or benefits packages.

So how can we meet social needs at work?

Have you ever dreaded the annual company picnic or found yourself trying to learn to golf or shoot paintball to fit in at some company function? Forced and overly structured networking or company-wide social events are expensive and can backfire, leaving employees feeling more disenfranshised than ever. A more organic approach, allowing relationships to develop naturally, is usually more effective. Social learning – loosely defined as learning with and through others – can help meet employee’s social needs in a more natural way. It has the added advantage of enhancing the impact of the learning as well. Humans are social creatures and often learn best when there is an opportunity to watch someone model new behavior or process new information as a group.

Microcontent – small nuggets of information usually delivered via mobile device – is particularly conducive to our fast-paced, global workplace and can be a valuable tool for building social connection, meeting social needs at work.

The buidling blocks of mobile learning, microcontent, can be adapted to serve a dual purpose, both educating employees about new information, and also fulfilling social needs. Instead of being forced or formal, participants in social learning have a reason to connect and share information. Social learning using microcontent creates a built-in touch point between employees. Depending on how it is used, microcontent helps build connection around shared interests or necessary skill building.

Let’s look at some practical examples.

Forum for Sharing

When an employee needs to build specific technical skills, he or she might be directed to the company’s Community of Practice in that area. These are often websites where experts in the field can post research articles, project updates, and other key information. The organization can introduce elements of social learning by allowing readers to respond or comment, ask questions or give feedback indicating which pieces of information are most useful. Experts can see right away which pieces of microcontent provided are getting the most attention. And learners around the globe can ask questions, see each other’s comments and responses and thereby learn more quickly. It is helpful to have an expert moderate these forums to be sure correct information is being shared, and in this way, the organization can leverage the knowledge of people at all levels of skill building. This enables knowledge sharing and fosters a culture of continuous learning. Click here to read some Community of Practice success stories.

Sparking Conversation

A short learning video that demonstrates correct performance is a very flexible piece of microcontent that might be used in a direct communication, as a performance reminder, or even as the kick-off to a face to face meeting. When used effectively, these short informational clips can lead to developed sense of competency and of belonging to the group. They can spark a connection among employees by creating common ground. We’ll talk more about the role of learning videos in social learning in our next article.

Support Performance on the Job

Another popular use of microcontent is in the performance support arena. Don’t dismiss the social component even here. If you have a performance support app that includes checklists, key specs, or procedures, consider including a feedback mechanism that allows participants to post, comment, or evaluate the quality of the resource. The users of the app, no matter where they are physically located, can develop a supportive knowledge-sharing community.

Review and Refresh

Microcontent makes great refresher pieces as well. After the quarterly town hall, send out a daily quiz question or key message via text message for the next few days as reinforcers. Again, this shared knowledge builds competence and common knowledge among your employees.

These techniques for using microcontent to meet your employees’ social needs not only reinforce learning and improve knowledge transfer, but also help foster their sense of connection and belonging. It may even help bolster employees’ self-esteem by fostering feelings of competency and accomplishment. This, in turn, helps improve employee job satisfaction and retention.

As we’ve seen here, microcontent can serve a variety of functions. In addition to providing a means to share information, it can be adapted to contribute to employee well-being. The investment in building and adapting microcontent can only lead to improved employee productivity and thus to a positive impact on your bottom line.

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