To manage and maintain our health and wellness, we track almost everything these days: our daily steps, hours of sleep, heart rate zones, calories. They all give us a measure of how we’re doing.

Out of respect for the work I do, I would often talk about the medical benefits provided by human touch—handshakes, hugs, fist bumps, etc. But that was before COVID-19. Since then, I have expanded that message to include the concept of “human moments.” It matters to count those, too.

“A human moment occurs anytime two or more people are together, paying attention to one another,” explained Edward M. Hallowell, M.D., in his book Connect. “These connections are the key to what counts in life, from a happy family to a successful business to a sense of inner peace, even to physical health and longevity.”

From scientific studies we are learning that when someone does something nice for us, the brain responds to these human moments by releasing a hormone called oxytocin. Past studies on brain activity have found that oxytocin helps to reduce fear and anxiety while also promoting trust and kindness in our relationships.

In my personal and work life, I have experienced the power of a human moment firsthand, especially recently with the uncertainty and change that COVID-19 has created.

Beginning this past April our adult daughter decided to grace my wife and me with her presence and work her Chicago job remotely from our home. She has become my daily running partner and occasional cubicle mate when my work schedule allows me to work remotely from my dining room table. We not only have a close father-daughter relationship, we have also become the best of work friends.

As a child I was blessed to grow up in my grandfather’s and father’s workplace. They were farmers. I had the opportunity to work side by side with them, learning and sharing life lessons and growing close. We had many human moments, from the joy of helping a cow give birth to the trauma and grief of witnessing the sudden loss of a beloved hired hand. In my profession as an organizational social worker, I never thought I would get to have that same experience with my children.

I have also witnessed human moments at work. Because of the need for social distancing, I have experienced something quite interesting and new. Employees are using their words more often to create these human moments. One incredible example happened when I was facilitating a virtual debriefing with a grieving workgroup who had tragically and suddenly lost a well-loved coworker to suicide. The young manager spoke up during the session and, as she looked around at her reports on the computer screen, she told them that she loved each one of them. That’s something she had never had the courage to say before. This modeling of an authentic and transparent message provided her staff with an emotionally safe place where they could put their thoughts and feelings into words.

Pre-pandemic I used to talk about the importance of experiencing at least eight to 12 meaningful handshakes, fist bumps or mutual hugs a day to be healthy and emotionally resilient. (I based this on the work of respected family therapist Virginia Satir.) Now I’ve transitioned to say we need eight to 12 “human moments” a day to be our best self.

For those of us who are more extroverted, a text message, an email reply or a phone conversation can truly make a difference during this time of social isolation and physical distancing. For those of us who are more introverted, reading a good book, writing in a journal or keeping someone in our thoughts and prayers can also make a difference.

I encourage you to become more mindfully aware of these human moments we have each day with colleagues, friends, managers, significant others, children, parents, neighbors, store clerks and other humans. Whether words, smiles, facial expressions, kind eyes above a mask, email or text messages, these gestures make us better managers, employees, spouses, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. In short, they make us better human beings.

At FEI we have successfully created opportunities for virtual human moments at work through facilitated conversations, grief groups, critical incident stress debriefings, conflict mediations, webinars, trainings and other work-related interventions. Please contact us for more information on how to make that happen for your workplace.