How to Build Social Connections Outside of Work

Here's why it's important and how to create a social life outside of work.
When Jasmine Shells graduated from college and moved to Chicago to start her career as an IT consultant, she was excited about the opportunities she would encounter and people she would meet. But she faced an unexpected — yet common — obstacle.

“And one thing that was really hard for me in moving — which I think a lot of post-graduates feel — is you kinda have this instant access to community on a college campus, and now you’re probably most likely relocating (over 75% of Millennials relocate for a new job). You kinda have to rebuild those connections all over again. So, [when I moved here] I was going through that.”

That’s when she started asking the question, “how can we create more community for people as they move and relocate?”

That trying question led her all the way to starting her own company, Five to Nine. Their mission is to build a strong community of young professionals over shared experiences — outside the workplace. Five to Nine launched in Chicago with the goal of helping young professionals make meaningful connections and grow in both their personal lives and professional careers.

Even if you don’t live in Chicago or aren’t a member of Jasmine’s organization, there are ways you can discover your ‘5 to 9’ wherever you are.

The current state of things for young professionals

Does her story sound familiar?

“Gallup has this really interesting stat that says only 5% of workers strongly agree that they have great relationships with the people that they work with and that their job does a good job of facilitating those relationships. And over 70% of Millennials want closer relationships with their coworkers,” Jasmine explains.

But for many young professionals, it can be intimidating to reach out and start building those relationships.

“In our research, what we found is that for any person — if you’re extroverted, if you’re introverted — it’s very hard for people to enter into an environment where they don’t know anyone and put themselves out there,” shares Jasmine.

Five to Nine is trying to solve this problem by promoting two key aspects in the lives of young professionals outside of work hours: authentic community and work-life integration.

Community is essential

“Social relationships are such a critical part of your mental health and overall well-being. To have people you can talk to, go out with, to share your ups and downs with a community is so important,” Jasmine shares.

On a college campus, those social connections come more easily as people not only study together, but also live together, and are encouraged to participate in a variety of extracurricular activities. But when moving to a new city or starting a new job, that community can be harder to find.

Even for an extrovert like Jasmine, a new city brings new challenges. “I had free time but I really didn’t have that network of people to go out with. I remember — because I love to salsa — I remember literally going out to places by myself. I legit would just go and I would hope to meet people,” she shares. “That’s when I noticed it was missing within my personal life. It was so uncomfortable! I felt so awkward, and I was that girl standing there by herself.”

But she has learned how important those social connections really are: “There’s this other crazy stat that I can’t quote directly but basically what it alluded to was that people who have poor social relationships have a higher chance of dying earlier than smokers, drinkers, people who are obese, etc. And when I read that I was like, ‘are you serious?! That’s insane.’

That’s why building community is essential to her mission at Five to Nine.

“We really base everything around socialization — actually building those one-on-one personal connections and relationships,” Jasmine explains.

More than ‘work hard, play hard’

“For me it’s not about ‘work hard, play hard,’” Jasmine shares. “For me, it’s more about a work-life integration, and how you can use both of those things to best suit your life as a whole.”

‘Work hard, play hard’ encourages “balance” by way of overload — the harder you work, the harder you play. But work-life integration, Jasmine explains, alleviates that pressure by encouraging people to find fulfillment in the way they spend their time.

“Figure out all those things that are important to you and make you who you are,” she encourages. She suggests finding ways to incorporate the things you love into your 5-to-9 life, without the pressure to ‘play hard.’

“It’s good to have multiple things that you can tap into for fulfillment. For many people, their job is an integral part of who we are, but there are other things that make us who we are, too. And I think it’s just so important to fulfill all those parts of ourselves,” shares Jasmine.

That’s why Five to Nine’s events include NBA games and mentor days, as opposed to traditional networking happy hours.

“We’re really looking to bring together that work-life integration where you can still network, but you can also feel fulfilled, personally.”

Why Five to Nine hates ‘networking’

“At Five to Nine we actually hate the word ‘network’ — just hate it,” Jasmine shares.

In her eyes, traditionally networking feels like a transaction more than a relationship.

“You usually go network when you really want something or you’re trying to meet a certain type of person or you’re trying to insert yourself into a certain environment — trying to get something out of it.” She adds, “I have definitely been to events where people just come up to me or the group I’m in and they just hand out their business cards. I’m like, ‘what’s your name?! Do you even know my name?’”

“We thought, how can we create experiences which allow people maybe to volunteer or allow people to workout or allow people to see a play? — you know, do those things that they love while still being able to socialize and network and be able to advance.”

The goal is to transform the world of networking with sincere relationships and community — through activities where people feel they can be their authentic selves.

“We seek to really create a more laid-back, fun environment so you don’t feel like you have to come and be a certain way and have all your business cards ready to go. At Five to Nine, we want to create an instant community over shared experiences where you can come, meet people, and start having a conversation and form a relationship.”

How to find and prioritize your ‘5 to 9’

“I think your ‘5 to 9’ is just as important as your ‘9 to 5.’ What you like to do outside of work — it fuels your individual growth and it also makes you more productive overall! Because you feel like you’re getting what you need out of your own personal life,” Jasmine explains.

She encourages, “The first thing I would ask is, ‘what is my five to nine?’ Define it to yourself. Figure out what matters to you outside of work. We all have that thing!” For Jasmine, it’s salsa dancing. For others, it might be volunteering or getting involved in your parish.

When you do find your outside-of-work passions, don’t be afraid to jump into them, even if you don’t know anyone. It’s easier to form relationships when you have a unique and common interest, because you’ll have that shared experience — whether it’s a love for salsa or bible study or volunteering — and it’s not networking where the end goal is to try to meet people to climb the professional ladder.

“You won’t regret giving yourself the chance to find fulfillment outside of work,” Jasmine shares.

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