Can work best friends help business?

Did you know that a telltale sign of employee engagement is friendship?

For some business owners, encouraging friendships in the workplace will seem a controversial idea, especially considering the adage ‘you don’t mix business with pleasure’ is practically lore.

But a Gallup report identifies having a best friend at work as one of 12 pillars of employee engagement. The research “revealed a unique social pattern among employees in top-performing teams. When employees possess a deep sense of affiliation with their team members, they are driven to take positive actions that benefit the business.”

It's easy to imagine why simply having a best friend at work would make a difference – a shared sense of purpose, and the feeling of having back up through stressful times is a safety net of sorts. Good friends offer praise or a reality check when it's needed and, most crucially, they trust each other. This makes team work all the easier. 

True friendship cannot be faked and takes time to nurture. With that in mind, managers should simply think about creating an environment where friendships are encouraged and allowed to flourish.

  1. First, lead by example. Showing an interest in life beyond work sets the bar for others to do the same. From talking about your hobbies, to remembering your colleagues’ children’s names, to what they had planned for the weekend shows you care and gives people the green light to talk to each other about life outside work whilst at work.
  2. Internal events are an obvious opportunity for individuals to socialise beyond their teams. Charity volunteering or fundraising, team-building activities, sports and exercise classes, even group training days offsite, can all provide opportunities for bonding.
  3. Socialising should be budgeted for as part of your engagement strategy. Having a drink after work, or taking the team out for dinner to reward hard work, is an opportunity for your team to strengthen friendships, not a waste of money.
  4. If members of your team work remotely, find ways to bring them into non-work related conversations and encourage others to do the same. Use team chat streams to share photos, videos, birthday wishes and weekend updates.

At Time Etc we trialled holding daily peer-to-peer appreciation sessions, which made a big difference. Each person picked someone on the team to appreciated for a specific reason. From just one exercise we saw colleagues forge stronger bonds – not least because mutual respect is one of the key cornerstones of friendship.

But a word of warning...

Friendship should not be a top priority in your engagement strategy, warns Gallup’s report, because friendships can have a harmful effect on the company culture if other needs are not met.

It says: “If employees don't have basic and individual needs met (such as clarity of expectations, an opportunity to do what they do best, a manager who cares about them and opportunities to develop), then friendships can encourage gripe sessions.”

Clearly, getting the foundations of management right should be priority one.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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