Workplace friendships used to be commonplace.
Now workplace experts say they’re beginning to make a comeback, particularly among men — and that’s good news for organizational culture.
With World Friendship Day coming up on August 6, take a moment to consider the important role of workplace friendships at your company. It’s a great time to plan low-key but engaging activities that celebrate friendships among employees and coworkers.
Workplace friendships don’t have to come at the expense of meeting work goals, according to Fast Company.
One study showed that “skipping the small talk and focusing on self-disclosure and nonwork-related topics can forge a closeness that makes coworkers more collaborative, productive, and accountable.”
Discussing success with colleagues is motivational, another study found. These are workplace conversations that can only happen in a culture that values and supports friendships.
Social and economic factors over the last 50 years have pushed Americans toward a workplace culture that devalues friendship and focuses at any cost on “getting down to business.”
The cost of this shift has left us with record-low employee engagement — still around 30 percent, according to Gallup. But there are signs the culture is shifting back. Workplace friendships could once again be the norm.
Workplace Friendships: What Happened?
In 1985, about half of Americans said they had a close friend at work, according to the New York Times article, “Friends at Work? Not So Much.”
By 2004, this was true for only 30 percent.
Being friends with coworkers lost appeal for young people over the same time period. The number of American high school seniors who said it’s very important to find a job where they could make friends dropped from 54 percent in 1976 to 41 percent in 2006.
One factor? Employees are switching jobs more often, instead of spending an entire career with one organization.
“We view co-workers as transitory ties, greeting them with arms-length civility while reserving real camaraderie for outside work,” Adam Grant writes for the Times.
But organizations have also done their part to devalue friendships.
“Organizations have moved to become less like communities and adopt more arms-length and distant relationships with their people,” according to a Stanford Graduate School of Business study of organizational behavior.
As Grant points out, we lost that sense of community with the loss of workplace friendships.
Decades ago, “we took our families to company picnics and invited our colleagues over for dinner,” he writes. “Now, work is a more transactional place. We go to the office to be efficient, not to form bonds. We have plenty of productive conversations but fewer meaningful relationships.”
The Incredible ROI of Workplace Friendships
“Case evidence and theory suggests that there are profound advantages from organizations becoming more communal,” according to the Stanford study. For starters, more communal organizations “are better at resolving work-family issues and foster long-term employment relations.”
Building a more communal organization requires investment, but it’s worth it.
Community-mindedness feeds employee happiness by strengthening bonds. Employees who feel they are friends with coworkers are also more effective. Groups of friends outperform groups of acquaintances in decision-making and effort.
“When friends work together, they’re more trusting and committed to one another’s success. That means they share more information and spend more time helping — and as long as they don’t hold back on constructive criticism out of politeness, they make better choices and get more done,” Grant writes.
5 Ways to Foster Workplace Friendships
You can’t just invite employees to an interdepartmental mixer or end-of-year party and expect friendships to blossom.
Social events alone aren’t effective, according to Grant: “People don’t mix much at mixers, and at company parties, they mostly bond with similar colleagues.”
Real friendship-building takes a more meaningful investment, but it’s not necessarily more effort. Grant explains,
“Whether we bond at work is a personal decision, but it may involve less effort and vulnerability than we realize. Jane E. Dutton, a professor at the University of Michigan, finds that a high-quality connection doesn’t require ‘a deep or intimate relationship.’ A single interaction marked by respect, trust and mutual engagement is enough to generate energy for both parties.
“However small they appear, those moments of connection can transform a transaction into a relationship.”
Here are company-tested tips for fostering workplace friendships:
1. Play together, eat together
At tech companies like Google and Facebook, it’s become routine to provide opportunities for shared games, sports, exercise and meals. Research suggests that playing together and eating together are good ways to foster cooperation.
2. Host a ‘Bring In Your Parents Day’
Meeting each others’ parents has a way of humanizing colleagues — plus it’s a great opportunity to share gratitude and celebrate workplace successes. LinkedIn hosts an annual “Bring In Your Parents Day” — this year it’s on November 10.
3. Start a company ‘alumni network’
Universities and colleges have alumni networks, so why not companies? It’s a way to “encourage employees to invest in relationships even when they won’t stay at jobs for decades,” according to Grant.
4. Support male friendships
“For decades women have been considered the friendship experts,” according to the Fast Company article, “How Men’s Changing Friendships Might Reshape the Workplace.” Men appreciate the same closeness in their friendships, new research shows, and are “frustrated that they don’t see this type of friendship reflected in current media.”
5. Communicate with gratitude
Fostering a culture of appreciation, at all levels and in all communication, lays the groundwork for employees to show each other more gratitude and be comfortable making friends.
FREE Resources for Building Workplace Camaraderie and Engagement
We all need inspiration to build a great workplace culture. Here at gThankYou we love helping companies connect, engage with and celebrate employees.
Here are two free eBooks that will inspire and provide actionable tools to help you build a culture where workplace friendships can thrive. Download them and start making a difference today!
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“In life, one has a choice to take one of two paths: to wait for some special day — or to celebrate each special day.” -Rasheed Ogunlaru, coach and author
2. “Transform Your Workplace with Gratitude” unlocks the secrets to recruiting and retaining a superior workforce, increasing profits and having more fun at work.
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Here’s to a happier workplace!
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