The concept of having a best friend may seem more appropriate for schoolyard conversations than workplace ones. Although there is no need for friendship bracelets to be exchanged across cubicle walls, there is most certainly a need for significant connections within the workplace in service of employee contribution and retention.
The best employers recognize that loyalty doesn’t solely exist to the company; it exists at a much deeper level – among employees toward one another. All employees have moments when they examine their professional situation; as recruiters, on a daily basis we speak to individuals who consider leaving an organization. The best managers recognize that the quality and depth of relationships (both peer-to-peer and employee-manager) is a critical component of employee loyalty.
One reason deep friendships are so essential in the workplace is because a necessary element of friendship is trust. Development of trusting relationships is a significant emotional component for employees in today’s workplace. Thus, it is easy to understand why it is such a key trait of retention, and is one of the 12 key discoveries from a multi-year research study by The Gallup Organization. When strong engagement is felt in a workgroup, employees believe their colleagues will help them during times of stress and challenge. In this day of rapid-fire change, reorganization, technological advancements, and innovation, having best friends at work may be the true key to effective change integration and adaptation. When compared to those who don’t, employees who have best friends at work identify significantly higher levels of healthy stress management, even though they experience the same levels of stress.
The Inner Circle
Consider your own inner circle at work. In Tom Rath’s Vital Friends, his extensive research outlines the types of individuals you must have in your life in order to elevate your professional game. Who of your vital friends can you count on for the following?
- Builders motivate you, invest in your development, and genuinely want you to succeed. These friends help you see your strengths and advise you on how best to use them. They are generous with their time and encourage you to accomplish more. They’ll never compete with you and will always be standing at the finish line to cheer you on.
- Mind Openers are vital friends who stretch your viewpoint and introduce you to new ideas, opportunities, and people. They help you expand your vision and create positive change in your life. These are the friends who challenge conventional wisdom and allow you to express opinions you might hesitate articulating to others.
- Navigators are friends who give advice and direction. You seek them out when you need leadership and counsel; they’re phenomenal at talking through your options. Navigators are best at understanding your dreams and goals and then helping you find the path to achieve them.
- Connectors are the bridge builders who help you get what you want. They get to know you and work to connect you with others who will share your interests or goals. They extend your network exponentially and give you access to new resources.
- Collaborators are friends with similar interests – those who share your passion for sports, hobbies, work, politics, food, movies, music, or books. Shared interests often make Collaborators lifelong friends with whom you are most likely to spend your time.
Building the Inner Circle of Others
Gallup’s research found that managers are the ones primarily responsible for the engagement level of their employees. Think through what you can do to take active role in fostering vital friendships within the workplace and the team. Friendships are about more than simply having fun; camaraderie can be built around a common sense of purpose, meaningful goals, and powerful day-to-day experiences. Studies have proven that soldiers form resilient bonds during missions in part because they believe in the purpose of the mission, rely on each other, and share the good and the bad as a team. Consider ways to increase engagement at weekly meetings, in action-planning sessions, and in one-on-one meetings with employees to make it part of your workplace’s DNA.
Camaraderie at work can create “esprit de corps,” which includes mutual respect, sense of identity, and admiration to push towards goals and outcomes. Certainly, the coordination of group events such as charitable initiatives, wellness competitions, community service events, and other activities can help build a sense of teamwork and togetherness. However, vital friendships serve many different dimensions. It is important for business leaders and managers to be acutely aware of the need employees have for strong bonds in each of the areas described by Rath, and use that knowledge within their own inner circles and the circles of others to enhance and engender employee satisfaction, productivity, and retention.