Remember your long-lost school days?
For a great many of us, dull Maths and English classes became much more bearable by the fact that we had friends to spend our designated lunch and break-times with. Sometimes, they’d even help us with our homework, or show us how to approach our problems in whole new ways.
When we leave school and start work, however, friendships seem to take a back seat. Instead, we’re encouraged to prioritise productivity and career development at work, and pursue our own interests outside of it.
Besides, the workplace isn’t an appropriate setting for making friends… is it?
Written by psychologist Lynda Gratton, who studies work, a recent Financial Times article discusses that through making friends, we “strengthen our resilience.” A Gallup poll also put the statement “I have a best friend at work” as “one of the best predictors of whether you will stay in your current job.”
Given that the world is still feeling the effects of the Great Resignation, it seems that developing strong in-work social networks could be a key factor in increasing wellbeing, and encouraging talented employees to stay.
The benefits of making friends at work
According to a recent article in Business News Daily, there are many benefits to developing work-based friendships, including boosting overall engagement, job satisfaction, and productivity.
“We now live and work in an era where many employees expect their job to be more than a paycheck,” writes Gallup consultant Annamarie Mann. “(E)mployees will seek out and stay with organizations that have exceptional workplace cultures… characterized by overall feelings of trust, belongingness and inclusion.”
However, Mann also tells of working for leaders and managers who “expect their employees to leave their humanness at the door… frown(ing) at chitchat and shared lunch breaks, and view(ing) friendship as detrimental to productivity.”
Other barriers to cultivating in-work social links include the advent of remote and hybrid working. A study recently reported in People Management found that 63% of the 2,000 UK workers polled said that working remotely presented a challenge, when it came to forming friendships with colleagues.
In the People Management article linked above, Claire McCartney, senior resourcing and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, said that in order to stop employees from feeling isolated, managers must “encourage social connections to create a sense of belonging.”
How to cultivate stronger social links at work
1. Encourage employees to get to know each-other
This could include offering remote workers regular opportunities to visit the office for a casual lunch or drinks, or holding meetings in a conveniently-located venue where people can easily socialise afterwards.
Companies could also consider holding designated ‘tea-break times’, or weekly team lunches for office-based employees.
2. Create shared experiences
In her FT article, Lynda Gratton recommends that we “rid (ourselves) of those endless virtual meetings, with their brisk pace and streamlined agendas.” Instead, she suggests creating shared experiences that can encourage friendships: “working in cross-functional projects, volunteering, helping others.”
Implementing a ‘buddy’ system for new recruits, or building a company-wide directory of skills that mean when an employee is feeling stuck, they can call on a specific colleague to help, could also help to foster shared workplace experiences.
3. Promote in-work socialising as a cultural norm
Many companies organise an annual Christmas party, or a summer picnic, which can go a long way towards encouraging in-work friendships.
However, it is important that leaders both attend and promote these events, “so employees come to see socialization as the norm,” writes Annamarie Mann. “Beyond the larger celebrations, leaders must also let employees see them taking lunch breaks together, or visiting with managers and other employees. Small acts can make big impressions.”
With the United Nations International Day of Friendship celebrated on 30th July every year, summer is as good a time as any to start forging strong workplace links.
After all, as a recent Forbes article on the subject concludes, “humans are hardwired to form close connections with others, and we are likely to form especially strong bonds with those we have something in common with. Inevitably, we are likely to find many of those people at work.”
If you would like some assistance in developing stronger social links throughout your organisation, our experienced (and friendly!) team at Viridian HR would be happy to help.