Social capital: of capital importance to your organization

‘People are our most important assets’, is a popular phrase among managers and a cliché that harbours quite a lot of truth.

The competencies and drives of each employee do constitute an important element in an organization’s success. Each organization is only as good as the people who work there. Valorization, optimization, organization, and development of this valuable social capital pose a great challenge. How do you bring out the best in your employees, how do you promote their well-being, and how do you ensure a agile organization?

Social capital is anything but a new concept. The effect of social capital on personal well-being and company health has been studied for a long time. The roots of the concept reside in the work of the 19th-century sociologist Emile Durkheim. But it wasn’t until the American political scientist Robert Putnam wrote the article Bowling Alone in 1995 that social capital gained attention outside of sociology.

Do not underestimate its importance to your organization. In order to excel, you cannot do without the motivation, personal involvement, individual resilience, passion, and goodwill of your employees. By improving social capital in your organization, you remedy the ailments that increasingly pester our rapidly evolving society, such as absenteeism, burnout, and bore-out.

In order to improve social capital in a successful and sustainable way, it must be integrated at three levels: the individual level, the team level, and the organizational level. These three levels are interrelated and therefore must always be in balance.

The individual level refers to the employees’ intrinsic motivation. Studies performed by the Ghent University indicate that symptoms of depression and long-term absenteeism are more prevalent in organizations with poor social capital. It goes without saying that a motivated employee, who performs their job with passion and enthusiasm, will be happier in their job, perform better, and go to greater lengths for their employer.

The team level refers to interaction between employees: the quality of social relationships, reciprocity, trust, frequency of interactions, and the intention to help each other achieve objectives. Employees in an organization with excellent social capital have a bigger perspective on the organization and consult each other when in need. They are not afraid to develop themselves fully and tend to employ a greater pallet of their talents. This also prevents the organization from procuring expertise that is already present internally.

The organizational level refers to the elements that everyone in the organization has in common, i.e. organizational culture, group identity, and the agility of the organization itself. To improve social capital in your organization, it is vital to invest in an inspiring corporate culture where employees feel at home and are given the opportunity to reach their full potential. The right group identity (a ‘good reputation’) makes your organization more attractive to clients, suppliers, and other stakeholders and it adds great value when hiring in a competitive market. And by giving employees more responsibility and a properly structured system for deliberation, collaboration, and decision-making, your organization will be quicker to anticipate change and adapt to new situations.

Investing at these three levels not only brings your negative patterns to a halt, but it actually instigates positive trends within your organization. So, your social capital is of capital importance!

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