Having a work best friend isn’t just a ‘nice to have’– it has a profound and measurable impact on employee productivity.
Like many people, I can recall jobs where workplace friendships were central to my social life. The shared in-jokes, the seamless transition from desk to pool table to bar and restaurant and home, for it all to start over again the next day. Close workplace friendships make the world go round – or at least make the nine to five less of a grind. But it turns out that workplace friendships also work well for the company.
AHRI member Cherie McGill, executive director human resources at Mantra Group, has always known close friendships were a core part of Mantra Group’s above-average retention, but an internal survey conducted to re-evaluate their value proposition last year proved it.
It uncovered that the number one reason employees said they stay with Mantra is friendships, says McGill. “Employees feel that there is this amazing friendship culture here, which I think speaks volumes for Mantra and for the industry.”
But are close work friendships purely an age thing? Once you have children or other commitments, priorities change. It’s not that you don’t appreciate colleagues just as much, it’s simply that work already takes enough of your time and investing in friendships is necessarily limited.
Again, it’s not just in your head. A LinkedIn study found that while millennials report overwhelmingly that friendships in the workplace have a significant impact on boosting happiness (57 per cent) and motivation (50 per cent), the number of baby boomers who report their relationships impact their work is significantly lower.
What saying “I have a best friend at work” means for your team
That’s not to say categorically that work friendships are only an important driver of engagement for the young. In multi-generational workplaces, the benefits of close friendships creates engagement that benefits teams and team building.
The development of close, trusting relationships is a significant emotional compensation for employees, says Gallup. In fact, they found it’s one of the key factors in retention – and is identified as one of the 12 traits that define highly productive work groups.
It also shows the impact made by connected individuals compared to transactional relationships that get the job done, but go no further.
Gallup found that the statement – “I have a best friend at work” – was one of the more controversial of the 12 traits they measured – because it made people uncomfortable to disclose they have “best friends” at work rather than a “close” or “good” friend.
However, when Gallup decided to be less specific – softening the word to “close” or “good” – or excluding the word “best” entirely, they found that “the item lost its power to differentiate highly productive workgroups from mediocre workgroups.”
What does this tell us?
It suggests that the use of the word “best” – an experience of superior and unique interpersonal collaboration – is what actually pinpoints a dynamic of great work groups.
Though all organisations pay attention to company loyalty, says Gallup, the best employers also observe the quality and depth of employees’ relationships as a critical component of employee loyalty.
Thus, those employees who said they had a best friend at work are 43 per cent more likely to report “having received praise or recognition for their work in the last seven days”, 37 per cent more likely to report that “someone at work encourages their development” and 27 per cent more likely to report that “their opinions seem to count at work”.
This also connects to the issue of trust. Employees who have best friends at work report significantly higher levels of healthy stress management compared to those who do not, even though they experience the same levels of stress – as they believe that their co-workers will support them during difficult times.
Gallup’s research suggests that today’s modern workplace of rapid-fire change, reorganisation, mergers, and acquisitions, “having best friends at work may be the true key to effective change integration and adaptation.”
How can HR foster workplace collaboration?
Friendship can’t exactly be achieved by crafting a workplace policy. However HR can create an environment that provides the right conditions for authentic friendships to develop.
- Create opportunities for bonding rituals (or, embrace “the hang”). Office gossip and non work-related chit-chat are are an integral part of building true camaraderie, writes AHRI member Sasha DeLorenzo; managers need to give teams the space to create these authentic relationships without feeling guilty about wasting time, or crossing professional lines
- Foster a workplace culture where people feel empowered to express their opinions, both among their peers and across hierarchies.
- Create opportunities for fun activities after work, such as informal quiz nights (match the baby photo with the work colleague), bingo, picnics etc.
Image credit: NBC