June 8th is National Best Friends Day, the day we should all turn to our favorite BFF to tell them how much we value the time they spend listening to our problems and texting stupid memes at us when we’re stuck in work meetings. If you’re lucky, the best friend you’re celebrating this week might be someone you know from work.
It turns out there’s a solid set of research showing that having friends at the office can increase the chances that the business will be successful and that employees will be happier. Here’s how having a workplace BFF helps businesses retain talent, improve productivity, and cut costs.
Defining Friendship at Work
Having a sense of belonging is a fundamental need and key to motivation in the workplace. Since most American workers spend eight or nine hours of the day at work, there is less time outside the office to fulfill these needs. That makes the connections we forge at work important to our productivity on the job and even to our overall health.
Having on-the-job friends requires you to have a common bond with one or more coworkers. It doesn’t matter what type of work or where it is. Work friendships bring a level of emotionalism to the job that is good for morale and culture, creating ties that bind people together into one shared purpose. Hopefully, that purpose is a set of well-defined corporate goals.
But some employers may not like that sense of camaraderie, thinking instead that it creates an “us versus them” universe separating employers from employees. These employers also say that negative fallout when these relationships go wrong can impact the work at hand.
The truth is that both of these attitudes are correct; work friendships have positives and negatives. The Harvard Business Review says, “Having work friends can be tricky, but it’s worth it.”
National polling organization, Gallup, understands just how tricky workplace friendships can be. Ask Gallup what they consider to be the most controversial question they’ve ever asked in their 30 years of surveying consumer attitudes. Their answer is eight little words: “Do you have a best friend at work?”
While it seems like a simple query, it elicits a passionate response from those polled. Many employees say they are adamant about not having a best friend at work and the separation between home and the office should be clear-cut. There are also plenty of employers that believe friendship is a distraction and has no place in their busy workplace. But a higher number of people say having friends at the office is exactly what keeps them motivated enough to show up every day.
Which attitude is right? What does the data really show? Does having a BFF at work ultimately help or harm a business?
Having Friends at Work Makes for Higher Production
Here’s a note for curmudgeonly managers that frown on office social time: It actually helps productivity. Talking about last night’s Game of Thrones episode at the water cooler helps (doesn’t harm) employee morale and overall team productivity.
Gallup polling has shown repeatedly that there is strong correlation between having a best friend at work and employee productivity. The research says employee friendships make workers seven times more engaged in their work than if they didn’t have a close friend at the office. Gallup says, “Our research has repeatedly shown a concrete link between having a best friend at work and the amount of effort employees expend in their job.”
Comparably also did a study on the “complicated coworker bond,” and found:
- One of the biggest impacts on job satisfaction is the coworker relationship
- Workers feel more loyal to their coworkers than their bosses
- 51% of men and 55% of women say they have a good friend at the office
- These workers say they are happier and more productive on the job
The Harvard Business Review suggests that productivity increases when you have a friend at work partially because people feel more comfortable seeking help and advice. Having a friend at work means you can ask questions without fear of being judged a poor performer. They also say that employees who have workplace friends report being in a good mood more often, which could positively impact the work being performed.
Gallup quantified these numbers into statistics that would make a production manager from any industry take notice. For those companies where employees say they have best friends at work, they typically experience:
- Customers that are 7% more engaged
- 36% fewer on-the-job safety incidents
- 12% overall higher profit
Gallup says the positive effect of employee friendship is particularly important to women. Women who have a BFF at work are more than twice as likely to be engaged on the job (63%) than women who say they don’t have a best friend at work (29%).
Productivity aside, it turns out that having a BFF at the office might also be the answer for today’s tight labor market.
Creating a Work Culture of Friendship Improves Retention
Gallup tackled the employee retention issue, too. They found out that employees are less likely to look for a new job if they have friends at work. That’s because they feel more connected with their coworkers in ways that will make them less likely to job jump. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) agrees, stating, “Nearly two-thirds of 716 full-time workers in the U.S. surveyed who had six to 25 workplace friends say they love their company.”
Conversely, SHRM says as the number of friends at work decreases, so too does that warm and loving feeling these workers express about their jobs. They agree that when employees feel connected to other people at work, they will be much less likely to seek employment at another job.
Why does this matter so much? Competition for the best employees is fierce, as the unemployment rate is at historically low levels bordering on a serious talent drought. As a result, employers are seeking creative ways to find and retain talent.
One of the top reasons people quit their jobs is because they don’t have a workplace BFF. A good workplace culture is always an attractor of talent, but if the statistics are accurate, it looks like all we really need to do is encourage and allow employees to engage with each other, creating friendships that help keep them on the job long-term.
Employees Are Healthier When They Have Friends at Work
High-pressure, nose-to-the-grindstone companies have healthcare costs that are 50% higher than other organizations.
The American Psychological Association (APA) says that the connection between health and stress is clear, but having social and emotional support at home or on the job can lessen the stress that’s making us sick. Isolation is a major factor in illness; for example, studies show that heart patients without the comfort of a social network are twice as likely to die. For years, loneliness and social isolation have been linked to illness and poor health. Studies even show that illness stemming from loneliness and social isolation is comparable to health damage from obesity, diabetes, and smoking.
This makes workplace friendships even more important for employers concerned about the high costs of providing healthcare in this country. Forbes reports that worker healthcare issues cost U.S. employers about $530 billion a year. That’s about 60 cents for every dollar that employers spend on employee healthcare benefits. But what does any of this have to do with having friends at work?
Gallup suggests that close relationships and the time we spend socializing make us happier and healthier. They’ve correlated each hour of social time with lowered stress, a higher chance of having a good day, and a more positive attitude toward the job. Just three hours of social time reduces the chances of a bad day by 10%. Gallup says worker productivity is tied not to the activity itself but to who is doing the activity with the employee. When employees are engaged in work with their friends, they have better health and the energy to be more productive every day.
How Can HR Create an Environment Where These Ties Flourish?
Taking advantage of the increased productivity that comes from fostering human connections at work is as close as your next new hire. Start their journey off on the right foot by creating a mentoring program to connect them with a carefully selected buddy. Why the “carefully selected” part? Because you want to find the employees with the skills and attitudes you want to build internally in the organization and replicate those characteristics in the new employee. Look for those informal leaders within departments who use active listening and are hardworking, creative, or have other traits that you would like the new employee to emulate.
For existing employees, there are several steps you can take to support internal friendships among team members:
- Promote collaboration and open communication among employees, including managers. Encourage employees to speak up without fear of reprisal or being shut down. Try to create open communication channels with digital tools like instant messaging or the company intranet. Ask and listen to ideas on how to reach strategic goals. Celebrate great ideas and recognize employee creativity and open sharing.
- Encourage workers to get to know each other, particularly across cross-functional teams. While Project Managers or other business leaders must set clearly defined goals that are communicated well, they should also emphasize breaking down silos and establishing ways for people to get to know each other, share ideas, and collaborate.
- Promote team-building social activities. Managers should not only plan these functions, but also participate whenever possible. This will normalize socialization between employees and encourage friendships and camaraderie.
Promoting work friendships is an important part of a positive employer culture that will make workers want to produce and stick around. Employers can reap the benefits of these important connections in all kinds of ways, from increased productivity, lowered healthcare costs, and talent retention.
We need best friends at work. We also need a BFF that can help with the search to find talent or a better job. Artisan Talent is that friend that can help with both.
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