Why Workplace Friendships Matter for Employee Engagement
Why Workplace Friendships Matter for Employee Engagement By Marielle MacMinn
You may want to reconsider the next time you put your earbuds in or pretend to be on the phone to avoid making small talk with your coworker on the elevator – don’t worry, we’re all guilty of it. Research indicates that the benefits of having friends in the workplace run much deeper than one might expect. Sure, it’s great to have someone to eat your lunch with or powwow over the latest office gossip; but beyond that, having at least one close friend at work leads to higher employee engagement overall. Many companies tout their selective hiring as one that cultivates a very specific [read: “cool”] company culture, but a workplace that encourages friendship among its employees will reap even higher rewards.
Let’s Talk About Stats
Although 70% of employees say friendship at work is the most crucial element to a happy working life, our actions do not accurately reflect this statement. The majority of people spend upwards of 8 hours a day working or performing work-related activities, but unfortunately for many, the workweek far surpasses the standard 40 hours. In the past, work served as a source of many friendships: company picnics included family, colleagues were invited over for dinner, and coworkers went for drinks or other activities together after the end of the work day. According to one study, 50% of Americans had someone they considered a friend at work in 1985, whereas in 2004, only 30% of Americans identified a colleague as a good friend. This same study, conducted by Olenka Kacperczyk of the Ross School of Business in Michigan, also looked at Poland and India in comparison to what is happening in the workplace in America. In Poland, 74% of people socialize with their colleagues outside of work, and in India 78% – a stark contradiction to America’s 47%.
Kacperczyk’s study found that there are no specific factors that have changed significantly to explain this decrease in socialization in America, other than a general increase in isolation. She explains, “people in America generally socialize less, and coworkers are just part of how we socialize less with each other.” Yet Americans are certainly still social creatures outside of work. Technological advances allow us to stay constantly connected to old friends, communicate with them at all times and even travel to see them frequently. Have we forgotten the age-old adage: “Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other’s gold?” Unfortunately, social media and other platforms, while useful, do not seem to promote substantial and lasting relationships where one does not already exist. Making friends once the days of school and hanging on the quad are over seems to be particularly difficult. Whatever the reason, Millennials especially are keeping personal and work lives partitioned, despite the study’s findings that personal relationships can generate and sustain emotional energy at work.
We Like The Way You Work It
So now we know that personal relationships at work can be very beneficial to the overall productivity of the workplace, but how do you, as a manager, go about affecting this sort of change?
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory explaining human motivation – one which is covered in most introductory level business courses and a useful tool for managers to help understand their employees. The five basic needs humans must meet to be motivated and happy are: 1. Physiological; 2. Safety; 3. Love/belonging; 4. Esteem; and 5. Self-actualization.
Keeping this pyramid in mind, you can encourage your employees to build better relationships at work and increase productivity by addressing each of these needs:
Basic physiological needs must be met for any person to function as a human on a day-to-day basis. According to a study from Office Vibe, 4 out of 5 employees believe that their employers should be encouraging healthier lifestyles. Many offices provide snacks in the kitchens for their employees to take from freely, but instead of chips, bagels and cookies, managers should be thinking more towards fruits and vegetables for their people to nosh on. Additionally, many buildings have gyms or companies can offer discounted membership rates for external gyms to their employees. To take it one step further, scheduling group workouts promotes both a healthier life style and inter-office friendships.
Safety is a more abstract need for managers to address outside of safe-ride-homes and secure buildings; however, job security is another way to encourage your employees to feel safe at work. In offices with high turnover and low job stability, work-place friendships are much rarer. As reported onEntrepreneur.com, trusting in peers, sharing meaningful milestones and respecting co-workers all promote productive work relationships and help employees feel safe and comfortable in their positions.
Love/belonging is the most obvious and easy need to address. People in general want to feel like they are part of the team or community. Office Vibe identifies four specific reasons for creating a more open and interactive work environment: it provides a better support system; loneliness hinders motivation and is demoralizing; it will improve communication skills; and it promotes overall productivity at work. They go on to explain that “when you have a close friend at work, you feel a stronger connection to the company, and you’re more excited about coming into work every day. You attach yourself to the company’s purpose and collaborate better to create success for the business.”
Now the final two needs are a bit harder for a manager to address. Fostering your employees’ esteem is two-fold. First of all, employees’ levels of confidence should increase as the first three needs are being met. By forging closer relationships at work, employees are more likely to receive acknowledgement or praise from their colleagues for a job well-done, thus raising their self-esteem. An additional step managers can take is to delegate more responsibility to your employees. By giving them some decision-making power, you are telling your workers that you trust them and consider yourself on the same team.
Last is self-actualization. Just as with esteem, this need should be a natural progression from all the others being met. That being said, this is definitely any manager’s goal for each and every one of their employees. Maslow describes self-actualization as “man’s desire for self-fulfillment, namely … The desire to become more and more what one idiosyncratically is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.” When someone realizes their full potential, it inspires them and drives them further – to always be the best and produce their best work. What manager wouldn’t want all of their people performing at their peak?
How do you manage workplace relationships? What tools or factors do you find important to managing these relationships?