It’s generally accepted that friendships are some of the most fulfilling relationships in life. So why then are friendships so often fostered in school and in early childhood, but not in work? Forget any trite sayings, workplace friendships boost employee engagement, and all managers worth their salt know how crucial that is.
89% of workers say work relationships matter to quality of life
71% of workers that have 25+ friends at work say they love their company (compared to only 24% of workers with no friends at work)
68% of workers with 25+ friends say they’re highly engaged
79% of workers with 25+ friends would turn down a job offer if they received one
To summarize: workplace friendships create happier, more engaged, proud, and productive employees who are likely to stick around. Clearly fostering these relationships should be a priority for managers. All too often, however, cultivating friendships at work take us back to kindergarten with cheesy icebreakers and team-bonding activities. Instead, managers can take these six suggestions to more naturally foster a culture of friendship.
Open up yourself: Forging employee friendships should start with the manager. Set up “down” time and spaces where employees can chat with each other about non-work things. Open up team meetings by asking your employees how they’re doing, and focus on team-building, not negative competition.
Add a shared activity to your office space: There’s no need to turn your office into an arcade, but putting a ping-pong table, a video game system, a pool table, or another activity in a break room can boost that friendly spirit and encourage employees to relax together while still playing on teams.
Schedule “time outs” for bonding at work: Taking a break from work in a group can help employees feel more relaxed around each other. Think of sponsoring afternoon yoga sessions, Friday end-of-the-workday happy hours in the office, or an all-hands potluck lunch once a week.
Celebrate personal events: Help employees get to know each other by bring some of the personal into the office. Celebrate birthdays with lunch or a cake, throw employees baby showers and wedding celebrations. This encourages discussion among employees that has nothing to do with a project due Thursday.
Leave the office: Employees are more likely to shed the strictly professional vibe outside of the office, so host an annual barbecue and encourage everyone to bring their family. Take your team members to a local sports game or amusement park. Get adventurous and bond over adrenaline with white-water rafting or another heart-pumping activity.
Create employee resource groups: In college, we all had groups celebrating racial and ethnic groups, LGBTQ-identified people, women, and people with disabilities, among other groups. Translate this into your office environment and sponsor communities with common interests to forge social bonds.
Cultivating workplace friendships among your employees should be more than making them do trust falls. Give your employees the time, space, and opportunity to build bonds beyond their job roles.