Guest article by Shaara Roman
As humans, we live for connection. In a world where it can be easy to feel alone, having friends gives us an uplifting sense of belonging… which is quite literally necessary for our survival and our ability to contribute meaningfully to society.
Loneliness is widely considered as one of the biggest health concerns of today. Beyond affecting people’s mental and physical wellbeing, loneliness kills productivity. That’s why encouraging friendships at work is a critical component to your workplace culture and business success.
Countless studies show that having friends at work boosts engagement and productivity… and therefore also your bottom line. Not to mention the fact that having an inclusive workplace culture where there is a genuine sense of belonging has perks of its own, including talent attraction and retention. When coworkers become friends, it results in a stronger motivation for the work they do and a more positive perception of the organization as a whole. When we have friends at work it means we have someone we can confide in, someone who supports us, someone who has our backs. That gives us the ability to feel safe and someone with whom we can be authentic. Not only is it good for the individual (and their mental health) but it’s also good for business.
Gallup conducted a multiyear study and found that people who reported to have a best friend at work were:
- 43% more likely to receive recognition for their work recently;
- 37% more likely to be encouraged to develop professionally;
- 27% more likely to feel their job is important;
- 27% more likely to feel their opinions count; and
- 21% more likely to feel they have the opportunity to do what they do best every day.
Work friendships are no doubt beneficial, but unfortunately many work environments simply aren’t conducive to fostering those deeper connections. Here are a few ways to help your employees make friends at work, even when you are virtual.
1. Use the buddy system
- Pair new hires with someone who can help guide the way and make them feel welcome. This will set the tone for friendship building and show the new employee that bonding is encouraged. Making it an explicit part of the employee’s expectations is important so that the commitment doesn’t get sidelined.
2. Provide ample opportunities for non-work-related mingling
- Whether it’s group lunches, happy hour, or simply team-building activities, people’s relationships are more likely to evolve in a fun setting. There’s nothing like creating space for people to relax and get to know each other, share stories, and simply let their hair down.
3. Facilitate mentorships
- Traditional mentorship, co-mentorship, and reverse mentorship are valuable tools that can help your employees feel connected to each other in a meaningful way. It also allows employees to feel like they are contributing to the organization.
4. Make it intentional
- Particularly in a virtual world, it’s important to be intentional about the employee experience you want to create. Finding ways to purposefully bring people together. You could randomly pair people off for a coffee chat session once a month and since everyone at the company is doing it, it is more likely that it’s not shrugged off. This ensures that everyone has a chance to connect and the less outgoing people get the push they need to come out of their shell.
5. Set the right example
- Show your employees that you value workplace friendships by building bonds of your own. As the leader, you set expectations through your own behavior – and values need to be lived in order to be taken seriously.
Day-to-day relationships at work impact employee performance, both positively and negatively. It’s important, and easy enough, to ensure that impact is of the former sort, rather than the latter. Fostering workplace friendships might just be the secret weapon you didn’t know you needed to boost your bottom line.
Shaara Roman is the author of The Conscious Workplace: Fortify Your Culture to Thrive in Any Crisis, and the founder and CEO of The Silverene Group, a culture consulting firm that aligns people, strategy, and culture to optimize organizational performance. As an award-winning entrepreneur, board member, speaker, author, and experienced chief human resources officer, Shaara and her team consult with leaders to create healthy workplaces by helping them build inclusive workplace cultures, design effective organizations, and align their company values and people programs to achieve business goals.
Born in India, schooled in Nigeria and England, and having lived in Greece before coming to the US, Shaara uses her global experience as the foundation for her distinctive expertise in crafting strategies to improve culture, workforce quality, and operations across a multitude of disciplines in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. She received an MBA from Georgetown University, where she is also an adjunct professor. Today, Shaara serves on several advisory and nonprofit boards.
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