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[Herald Interview] Do you have a best friend at office? Human connection crucial for work efficiency, says behavioral scientist

Human connection crucial for work efficiency, says behavioral scientist Jon Levy

Dec. 2, 2021 - 16:27 By Kim Da-sol
Jon Levy, behavioral scientist and creator of the Influencers Dinner (Jon Levy)

After COVID-19 forced many aspects of our lives to become more isolated, the world is making a gradual move to return to how we used to be. Commuting to work has resumed and team lunches have been revived, although people still wear their masks and transparent acrylic panels have been erected between people at the tables. 

Although South Korea kicked off its “living with COVID-19” scheme with eased social distancing rules on Nov. 1, still today many are suffering from social isolation, less contact and a lack of physical touch. Adapting to the changing world, many are feeling lost on how to create more connectedness in their lives. 

Jon Levy, a human behavioral scientist from New York, told The Korea Herald the ongoing pandemic has impacted well-being, happiness and longevity because people are missing out on meaningful relations.

“People are really stressed out. People are stuck at home, some people are liking it, some aren’t. And there are many people leaving the company. So companies ask how do we create a work culture that makes people want to be -- how do we develop their relationships -- at work?” he said during an interview in Seoul. Levy has worked with global clients including Google, Microsoft and Samsung on work culture crises.

“There was an interesting study that looked at (whether employees) have a best friend at work. If you do have a best friend at work, what is that impact on your stay?” he said.

Levy said there is a concrete link between having a best friend at work and the amount of effort employees expand in their job, and that’s why companies should foster deep and meaningful relationships at work.

According to Gallup, having a best friend at work can be key to engagement and happiness at work. 

A 2018 Gallup study showed that women who strongly agree they have a best friend at work are more than twice as likely to be engaged with their work (63 percent) compared with women who say otherwise (29 percent), which leads to the production of higher quality work, better well-being and less likelihood of injured on the job. 

Levy said working from home due to the pandemic has hurt the process of developing influence, gaining trust and building community.

He said working from home has left people with no “transition time.”

“When I commute, I listen to podcasts, read a book, increase my knowledge and emotionally process my day. If I don’t commute anymore, I go straight from frustrating meeting at the end of the day to talking to my family, and that’s really tough,” he said. 

Also for brand new employees, working from home can be frustrating, he said.

“Let say I’m brand new to the company and the only people I would know is five people I’m on calls with. There’s no mentorship, no understanding the company, no necessity to develop other skills, besides specific things I’m being told, over the long term. That would leave a huge impact to one’s career.”

More than a decade ago, Levy created what he calls the Influencers Dinner. At a first glance, this secret dining experience may sound like a typical social gathering, just without the names revealed. 

“I’ve hosted 240 dinners across 10 cities in three countries inviting over 2,000 people. I spent most of my adult life convincing people to come to my home, cook me dinner, wash dishes and clean the floor for me,” said Levy.
But he had one rule -- people were not allowed to share their names “to make everything equal.”

“If I see a big company’s CEO or famous celebrity or Nobel laureate, I may think that I’m not so important. So I wanted to make everyone feel just as important so they can connect as a friend,” said Levy.

Getting people to cook together is closely related to the “Ikea effect,” according to Levy. 

“There is a weird human behavior characteristic called ‘Ikea effect.’ We care more about Ikea furniture because we had to assemble it. Anything we put more effort into, we care about it more. People cook together, they care about their food and people,” he said. 

“The secret is, we give people a very limited amount of time and a project to do -- too hard to do one person by himself -- that both have to put in effort. What happens is you feel connected to each other.”

According to Levy, the art and science of creating deep and meaningful connections with anyone, regardless of their stature or celebrity, lies in the power of community.

“Joy shared is double, suffering shared is half -- each of us have different skill sets and expertise. Nobody is self-made anymore. Expecting us to do things alone doesn’t work. People have to depend on others,” said Levy.  

“Their wisdoms, experience, skills and talents, have a profound impact on us.”