Does your workplace encourage mixing the personal with the professional? If not, it could be missing a massive trick when it comes to employee engagement.
In his book ‘Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford To Live Without’, Tom Rath shows that just under one-third of employees say they have a best friend at work. That may not seem like a lot, but the effect a best friend at work has is staggering: those who say they have one are a massive seven times more engaged in their jobs than the general workforce. Seven times! That’s a huge leap in engagement.
And conversely, people who don’t have a best friend in the workplace have only a one in twelve chance of feeling engaged at all. So 30% may not seem a huge proportion of the workforce as a whole, but you could be part of an organisation where the other 70% of employees struggle to feel engaged in any way. Scary stuff.
But, I can see how this situation has arisen. Over the last few decades, organisations have expected more from employees – more time, more energy, more input. They need to get the maximum amount of value from employees in order to stay ahead of the curve. So those who are now hitting middle age in these organisations have put so much time and effort into their careers; couple that with the energy they have spent building young families and you can see why there’s not a lot of room left for friendships outside of work. If people are going to have a close friend now, it’s likely to be at work simply because that’s where we spend the majority of our time.
So, if we want truly engaged employees, we need to help foster close relationships in the office. But how?
It’s not the quantity of friendships that matter, it’s the quality, especially as people get older. Instead of company-wide days out, why not bring the focus in? Support peer-to-peer mentoring, consider retreats with an intimately-sized group, or instigate projects run by small cross-functional teams. Allowing people the chance to get really personal with those they might not usually have a reason to work with gives great opportunities for new, productive relationships to form.
At Insights we often tell people to ‘bring your whole self to work’. And what we mean by that is; feel free to be yourself here, bring your slippers in, get comfy, don’t feel you have to put on a corporate mask when you walk through the office doors. And we mean it, too. If you encourage people to be really open about who they are, what motivates them, what makes them laugh or cry, you’re opening doors to lifelong friendships. Insights is full of them, and it makes our working life immeasurably richer.
People are most comfortably themselves when they’re a good fit for the role they’re in. If you try to fit a square peg into a round hole to suit your business needs, chances are that person will become stressed, defensive and unable to be the ‘real’ them that would shine in their natural habitat.
Letting people shine by helping them move into a role that brings their talents to the fore will make them a better colleague, and ultimately friend. They’ll be happier, more approachable, have time to support friends and be a long-term asset to your company. You may think that your company really needs to focus on creating loyalty to the organisation, but fostering loyalty and friendship between employees is a key component of building a stable, content, productive workforce. It’s just a different approach.