Best mates make the best workers
30 October, 2015
I once heard that a chief executive has the loneliest job because when you're at the top, you can't afford to be friends with people who work for you. I thought it was an odd notion — yes, you need to earn respect and lead by example but surely you can still build relationships with colleagues?
Years later, it seems this was indeed a workplace myth, along with the related: "We're here to work, not to make friends".
Making friends is one of the most important things we will do in our careers; it turns out the deeper our friendships at work, the happier we'll be and the more productive our workplace.
Friendships at work are one of the strongest predictors of productivity. A Gallup study found employees with a best friend at work tend to be more focused, more passionate and more loyal to their employer. They get sick less often, suffer fewer accidents and change jobs less frequently. Workplace friendships can even lead to more satisfied customers.
The numbers are quite staggering and the closer the friend, the better the numbers become. According to Gallup, employees who had a best friend at work were 43 per cent more likely to have received praise or recognition for their work; 27 per cent more likely to believe their opinions count; and 28 per cent more likely to have had someone at work talk about their progress in the last six months.
More than 50 per cent of employees with a best friend at work felt a strong connection with their company, compared to just 10 per cent of employees without a workplace BFF.
In a 2013 survey of business people across Australia, those planning to stick with their current job cited 'good relationship with co-workers' as the major reason (67 per cent) — ahead of job satisfaction (63 per cent), flexible working arrangements (57 per cent) and salary (46 per cent).
One workplace psychologist claimed those we see daily at work have the potential to increase our happiness as much as earning an additional $100,000 per year would; not sure I'd go that far…
This might all seem common sense but it's quite a challenge for employers to enable and sustain old-fashioned friendships in their workplace. Generations ago, workplace friendships were recognised as important and fraternising was encouraged with company picnics and having colleagues to dinner.
But these days life is extra busy and our social interactions take place in very different ways — who needs real human contact when you can maintain relationships via your phone or computer?
Employees tend not to stay with the same employer for life like they used to, preferring to try something new every few years. If they don't plan to stick around, they might not invest as much of themselves in their workplace relationships. They might be civil, professional and friendly but save real camaraderie for outside work.
I know some members of my team cringe at the thought of attending our company off-sites; games, team-building exercises and social activities with colleagues just leave them cold. Others can't wait to spend time with their colleagues in a non-work setting, getting to know them better and building deeper relationships.
Whether we bond at work is a personal decision but countless studies confirm there is value in it for employees and employers, in both an emotional and financial sense.
One researcher summarised the concept: There's nothing nicer than working with people who make Mondays feel like Saturdays!