You want your employees to get along with each other — but do you want them to actually be friends? While you might think that friendships between employees will lead to goofing off and gossip, studies by The Gallup Organization have found just the opposite. Having close friends at work confers a variety of benefits not only on employees, but also on the companies they work for.
Work Friendships Benefit Employees
- Gallup says employees who have “a best friend” at work are seven times more likely to be fully engaged in their jobs.
- The same study reports that close friendships at work increase employee satisfaction by 50 percent.
- Workplace friendships are especially important to women. In a recent Gallup poll, two-thirds of women say social interaction is a “major reason” they work.
Work Friendships Benefit Your Business
- Employees who feel a deep connection with their team members are more likely to take positive actions that benefit the business, Gallup says.
- When employees have good friends at work, it positively affects company profitability, safety, inventory control and customer loyalty.
- Employees who have a best friend at work are less likely to leave their jobs.
How to Encourage Work Friendships
Despite the importance of close friends at work, many businesses are falling short in terms of helping employees connect. What can you do to encourage friendships among your employees?
While you can’t (and shouldn’t) force people to become friends, you can provide more opportunities for them to get to know each other and develop friendships naturally. This is a topic I know a little bit about: In my previous life as a manager, I supervised several “generations” of employees who were close friends, socialized outside work and, in many cases, are still friends 10 or 20 years later. In fact, I started my business with two of my friends. Here are some ideas:
1. Use a buddy system to welcome new employees. Pairing a new hire with someone who can show him or her the ropes, both formally and informally, encourages friendships. Look for buddies who are outgoing and friendly, and can introduce the new employee to lots of other people.
2. Break bread together. Everyone loves to eat. Bring in lunch once a week, order pizza every Friday or throw a monthly potluck. Talking over a meal is a great way to build friendships.
3. Hold offsite meetings. Once or twice a year, get your team offsite for a day or a weekend. In addition to the strategic planning or training, allow plenty of time for just hanging out and having fun.
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4. Get active. Try holding a wellness challenge where teams of employees compete. Encourage employees to walk together at lunch instead of sitting at their desks — or get out there and lead a group yourself. Have an afternoon “dance party” where everyone gets up from their desks and dances around for 15 minutes. Doing silly stuff together loosens people up and builds bonds.
5. Play games. From trivia contests to sports-related office pools to “Guess whose baby picture that is” contests, games get people talking to each other. (My employees once held a contest to guess who had the biggest head.)
6. Team up. A company softball or volleyball team in a local recreational league can build bonds outside of work, and even employees who aren’t athletic can cheer their co-workers on.
7. Plan monthly outings. After-work activities like going bowling, playing pool or rock climbing can be a lot of fun. Instead of planning it yourself (which can come off forced), put employees in charge of choosing and organizing the events.
With all these activities, the point is not so much the activity itself, but the space in between when people start talking. Don’t schedule every moment of an event — give people some downtime to interact naturally.
The number-one way to build employee friendships: Model them yourself. Take a real interest in your employees. Spend time getting to know them and learning about their lives. Yes, there’s work to get done, but it’s also important to build relationships with the people who help you do it.
Co-workers Photo via Shutterstock