The connection we feel to our work environment is largely dependent on the connection we have to the people within it. The innately human desire for relationships we all possess naturally bleeds into our work life. While genuine friendships that exist even outside of the office can certainly make the 40+ hour work week more enjoyable, it begs a question: is having a best friend at work beneficial to the organization at large?
According to Gallup, when 6 out of 10 employees in the United States strongly agree they have a best friend at work, their respective organizations can experience 36% fewer safety incidents, 7% more engaged customers, and 12% higher profit. Gallup makes a point to include the question, “Do you have a best friend at work?” in its recurring employee engagement survey because the data has consistently pointed to an increase in performance when the answer is “Yes.”
LinkedIn discovered that one-third of Millennials vs. only 5% of Baby Boomers agree that socializing with colleagues aids in moving up the career ladder. Another 46% of people surveyed believe that friendships at work make them happier overall. A ResearchGate study highlights a more complicated side to friendships at work. The research revealed that while having a work friendship did lead to higher job performance, the benefits may have been a moot point given the emotional exhaustion of maintaining friendships on the job. It is worth noting that any trepidation to having friends at work appears to be more of an American issue than a global one. For example, less than 6% of Americans have taken a vacation with a co-worker, in stark contrast to 1 in 4 Poles and roughly half of Indians.
Research has shown that the true benefits to having work friendships are due to values like vulnerability, compassion, and trust. Workplaces that encourage these values are likely to produce environments that feel more friendly even if workers would not necessarily say they have a “best friend” there. The takeaway here, especially for American organizations, is that the focus should be less on forcing friendships between colleagues and more on creating a space where deep feelings of connection can freely live.
The evidence is repeatedly clear. A strong friendship with a colleague significantly impacts both performance and engagement which leads to better business outcomes. How can leaders, the greatest influence over workplace cultures, foster environments that allow these relationships to flourish?
In our experience working with many amazing organizations across the globe, there are a few common denominators amongst those with high-performing teams and “friendly” cultures.
- Start with Core Values
While forcing work friendships is not encouraged, creating shared points of connection is. Creating, defining, rewarding, and living out core values not only sets your business up for success, it also gives all team members a common language and reference point. On sports teams, all teammates share one common goal: to win. When great emphasis is placed on core values, all employees share the organizational expectation to display behaviors representative of their common core values. It produces a team mentality knowing that all teammates are rowing the same boat in the same direction. Core values naturally breed connection which can eventually lead to strong, healthy friendships.
While actual water coolers in business offices may be a thing of the past, the concept of “water cooler” talk is still very present. It starts with just one comment behind a co-worker’s back and, if left unchecked, can quickly turn into a workplace friendship built on a foundation of shared gossip or mutual frustration. Being intentional with core values helps to eliminate many of these toxic tendencies by showcasing positive behaviors, and therefore discouraging behaviors that are not in line with the core values whatsoever.
Another simplistic way to elevate core values is to invest in a digital recognition tool. The ability to recognize colleagues for positive behaviors in an online tool bolsters human connection, which is needed more than ever in our remote working world. Our WorkDove Recognition tool, for example, is open to every employee at every level and allows people to recognize others who are outside of their own department or location.
2. Leave Space for Fun
Employees who play together stay together. Millennials, or the “ping-pong table” generation, brought fun in the office to a whole new level. For a few decades, organizations have been attempting to reshape the typical office environment to be more inclusive of laser tag team outings and breweries on the bottom floor. Fun will look differently for every team, but the bottom line is less about Friday Nerf gun battles and more about simply being together with the sole purpose of enjoying one another.
A few fun examples we have seen from our clients are superhero dress-up days, virtual cocktails, running 5Ks together, and Chick-Fil-A Fridays. Have fun together in a way that fits your culture best!
3. Let Human Nature Take Over
Here is the good news: When space is available for people to make connections, they will. We are wired to develop bonds in all areas of our lives and for most, work is the place where the majority of their lives are spent. The question is not if work relationships will be formed, but rather what type. It is never too late for business leaders to carve out space for human nature to take over.
While this may feel counter cultural given the world at work right now, our suggestion is to encourage as much in-person work as possible. Remote and hybrid work will remain forever but we cannot deny what gets accomplished when we are face-to-face, namely, human connection. The power of reading body language, a quick chat in the hallway, or an all-staff meet-up meets business needs and fundamental human needs. Simply giving people the option and encouragement to work in person together will undoubtedly bear the fruit of personal connection. You will inevitably receive a large spectrum of responses from pushing people to return to physical offices given the last two years of remote work due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Flexibility on in-person work is certainly encouraged but ultimately the benefits of regularly seeing the smiles of your colleagues far outweigh the negatives.
Friendship is an essential part of the human experience. By no means should we shy away from this fact for the sake of keeping things strictly business. Workplaces rich with opportunities for people to truly relate with others will enjoy not only more fully engaged employees but also a strengthening of performance and overall business outcomes. Go ahead and have that drink after work with your department bestie. We approve!
Want to learn more about creating a friend-making environment at your business?