Measuring workplace friendships is very important in any business for Nr. 1 reason:
It’s one of the strongest predictors of productivity. Studies show that employees with a best friend at work tend to be more focused, more passionate, and more loyal to their organizations. They get sick less often, suffer fewer accidents, and change jobs less frequently. They even have more satisfied customers.
Why would friends be better at working together than acquaintances?
The reason? = Studies showed that Friends have better communication while doing the activity, and offered teammates positive encouragement every step of the way. Friends were more committed at the start of the project. They also evaluated ideas more critically and gave one another feedback when they were off course.
Acquaintances, on the other hand, took a different approach. They appeared to prefer working alone, engaging one another only when it was absolutely necessary. They were also less comfortable seeking help and resisted pointing out when one of their coworkers was making a mistake. Instead of fusing into a group and leveraging one anther’s strengths, their lack of connection was holding them back. They were operating in silos.
Research suggests that workplace friendships yield more productive employees, and it’s not just because friends are easier to work with. It’s also because there is more on the line. Feeling a connection with colleagues can motivate employees to work harder for a simple reason:
“When colleagues are close, a poor effort means more than a dissatisfied customer or an unhappy manager. It means letting down your friends. The social pressure to do a good job can often serve as a stronger motivator than anything a boss can say.”
Workplace friendships also benefit organizations for another reason. Employees with better friendships tend to stay on with their company for longer periods of time. In today’s world, loyalty to an organization has become an antiquated concept, one that rarely determines people’s career decisions. Bur when our coworkers are our friends, it suddenly becomes harder to leave. Often it’s our loyalty to our colleagues that keeps us from accepting higher salaries and better titles with another company.
What happens when there’s a lack of friendships in the workplace?
Psychologists call it process loss, and if you’ve ever worked with a difficult colleague, you’ve probably experienced it firsthand. The technical definition is “wasted energy and loss of productivity caused by interpersonal difficulties.” We all recognize the symptoms. The mild version involves the occasional miscommunication. More acute cases are : rife with unresolved tension, breakdowns in collaboration, and eventually full-on turf wars. Instead of focusing all your attention on your work, you find yourself sidetracked by interpersonal drama, which invariably makes you worse at your job.
How much is it costing businesses to leave employee friendships to chance? Well, if you don’t build friendship at workplace that will directly impact your profit and the existence of your company will be defined on short -term only.
HOW LONELINESS MAKES YOU STUPID
Part of the reason so many executives have a hard time taking the importance of employee friendships seriously is that it’s easy to confuse the concept of friends at the office with the notion of fooling around. Informal colleague relationships are often perceived as sources of gossip, interpersonal favoritism, and general workplace distractions. But research suggests that this is a misguided way of thinking about what happens when we’re working with friends. Meaningful connections are vital to our psychological and physical well-being. So much so, in fact, that many scientists now believe it’s impossible to be healthy unless we’re feeling connected to others.
Studies show that loneliness can have a crippling effect on our bodies. Lonely people have weaker immune systems, stiffer arteries, and higher blood pressure. They experience more stress, have a harder relaxing, and derive less pleasure from the possibility of reward. Often they lose sleep, which precipitates further mental deterioration. Over time, extended bouts of loneliness can lead to cognitive decline in the form of memory and learning deficits. Left untreated, chronic loneliness can threaten your life.
A recent study demonstrates that loneliness in the workplace isn’t merely an uncomfortable personal experience-it can interfere with the performance of an entire team. When employees experience loneliness, they grow more disconnected from their colleagues. Their ability to focus deteriorates and their desire to succeed plummets. Often they waste valuable cognitive resources attempting to hide their loneliness from others, leaving even less mental firepower for their work. In short, they become less capable of doing their jobs. Which leads us to the big elephant in the room: Even if friendships are vital to workplace performance, what can organizations possibly do about it? Friendships, after all, are voluntary. You can’t persuade people to become friends. Or can you?
THE SCIENCE OF MAKING FRIENDS
As it turns out, organizations have a lot more influence over employee friendships than they recognize. To understand how companies can promote bonding between coworkers, let’s first examine some of the common ingredients at the core of successful friendships. What makes people like one another? Research suggests that there are three basic building blocks and they’re all surprisingly straightforward.
The 1st ingredient for friendship is: physical proximity. Initially, physical proximity might sound like an obvious requirement for friendship, one hardly worth mentioning, except its implications are profound. Consider the number of close friendships you’ve formed while living, studying, or working near people you now hold dear. How many of those relationships would have developed if the seating arrangements had been slightly different?
The same observation applies to the realm of romance. Think you and your spouse were made for each other? Maybe. But if of the 7 billion of the world’s inhabitants you and your soul mate just happened to share a zip code when you first met, cosmic destiny may have had less to do with your relationship than the principle of proximity.
When a coworker is often nearby, your chances of hitting it off are far greater than if the two of you work in different departments. There might be someone at your company sitting at their desk right now who could be the best friend you will ever have. But if your opportunities for interacting with that person are limited, you may live your entire life without knowing it.
The 2nd and strongest contributor to friendship is: Similarity.
The more we have in common with others-whether it’s a college major, a favorite TV show, or even the same birthday-the more we tend to like them. As writer C. S. Lewis once observed, “Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? thought I was the only one,'” Why is this the case? Because similarity is reaffirming. If I like Simon Sinek and you like Simon Sinek, your opinion validates my own and makes me feel good about myself.
A 3rd friendship requirement: familiarity. On average, we tend to like people the more we see of them, and often the effect is unconscious. There’s an uncertainty we feel upon meeting someone for the first time. But with repeated exposure we develop a sense of safety and comfort around them. Which is why familiarity tends to liking. Studies show that the mere exposure effect doesn’t just affect our impressions of people. It also applies to paintings, songs, and consumer products. Ever wonder why Coca-Cola still bothers advertising when nearly everyone on the planet has already sampled their beverage? The mere exposure effect offers one perspective: The more often we see a logo, the more we tend to like (and therefore buy) the product.
In a study of best friends who managed to stay close for nearly 20 years, researchers found that the strongest predictor of long-term bonding is the level of similarity when friends first meet. The same principle applies to intimate relationships. Romantic comedies and sitcoms may try to convince us that in terms of personalities the opposites attract, but the research is conclusive: When it comes to long-term relationships similarity beats differences every time. While all friendships are founded on the pillars of proximity, familiarity, and similarity, psychologists have discovered that you can have all three elements and still not see a blossoming friendship there’s still something missing, a vital ingredient that sparks the relationship process. That ingredient? = Secrets.
HOW TO TURN ACQUAINTANCES INTO FRIENDS
If you want two people to connect, factual exchanges aren’t enough. What you need is for people to reveal intimate information about themselves in a reciprocal fashion. Having one person talk and the other listen won’t get the job done; it will simply leave one person feeling exposed. For intimacy to develop, both partners need to self-disclose. Another important feature is the observation that in close friendships the level of self-disclosure tends to escalate over time. When we first meet a friend or colleague the revelations we make tend to be fairly superficial. But as we grow closer, we become more comfortable sharing intimate details and expect our partners to do the same.The progression is important. Without deeper revelations a relationship can stall.
SELF-DISCLOSING IN THE WORKPLACE
After all self-disclosure might be a good way of bonding with a buddy at the gym or a new neighbor. But in a competitive work environment, where everything we say and do reflects on our level of professionalism, shouldn’t we be a little more discreet? Is opening up and sharing emotionally sensitive information with coworkers really a wise approach? Research conducted suggests it is, at least if your goal is to make friends. What the research discovered is that close workplace friendships tend to follow a distinct pattern that is marked by three key transitions.
The 1st is the transition from acquaintance to friend. For the most part, all it takes for this transition to occur is working near a colleague for a period of about a year and occasionally collaborating on team projects. How can you tell if coworkers are friends? Ironically, by the amount of time they spend discussing nonworkplace topics. The more frequently colleagues talked about nonwork matters, the closer they tended to be. There’s an important lesson here for anyone interested in growing their influence in the workplace: When all you do at the office is talk shop, you might develop a reputation for being competent, but you’re not likely to end up with a whole lot of friends.
The 2nd and the 3rd transitions are, the ones that turned friends into close friends, and close friends into best friends. Here the proximity and common ground that prompted the 1st transition were nowhere near enough to catalyze a strong connection. What was? Sharing problems from one’s personal, home, and work life. The challenge for many of us, of course, is that proactively sharing potentially embarrassing information is a little like visiting an emotional casino. If your listener reciprocates with a few revelations of their own, the payoffs can be big: You stand to win a deeper and more satisfying relationship. But if your disclosure isn’t reciprocated-or worse if it’s criticized-you end up feeling exposed. And that experience is painful. The irony is that close relationships are often built upon a foundation of shared risk. It’s when we reveal our vulnerabilities that we acquire new friends.
WHAT EVERY MANAGER CAN LEARN FROM PARTY PLANNER
We know a lot about the formation of friendships, yet we seem to apply very little of that knowledge to cultivating relationships in the workplace. Consider what happens when an employee joins your company. In many organizations, surprisingly little thought is given to the way onboarding can contribute (or undermine) a sense of connection between team members.
After my graduation in 2003 I had different workplaces. All were good companies, but the managers were all lacking this approach of friendship formation. At my last workplace at AUDI for example, my onboarding process consisted of me showing up on the day and my manager removing a few boxes from a desk and saying: You can sit here for now,’ Even let’s suppose he was a brilliant guy working at a successful company. He was far too busy to give onboarding much attention. On the other end of the spectrum is a process that overcompensates, exposing newcomers to the corporate equivalent of speed dating. Meetings are stacked back-to-back at breakneck speed so that new employees can introduce themselves to important leaders in their company. While well intentioned, it’s an approach that forces employees to pinball from office to office, answering the same superficial background questions and leaving them little room to absorb information.
By the end of the day, faces have blended together and any meaningful connections that might have developed are squandered. Both extremes miss the mark for the same reason: They design onboarding from the perspective of the organization and not the employee. And in so doing, they miss a key opportunity for fostering close friendships.
Remember how you felt on your first day on the job? Proud,excited, perhaps a little anxious … You didn’t want to be ignored. But you certainly didn’t want to feel overwhelmed. What you really wanted was to find a way to show your coworkers-and especially your manager-what a shrewd decision they had made by hiring you.
Intelligent onboarding reflects the needs of employees as well as those of their companies, by addressing two concerns that often weigh heavily on the mind of new hires: demonstrating their competence and connecting with their colleagues. Entering an organization is like joining a party that has been going on without you for years. Some people are naturally drawn to mingling, but many struggle over what to do. The first few minutes are especially critical for guests, because the longer they feel isolated the more they need to rationalize their experience with negative thoughts like, “Everyone here is so boring” (defensive) or, worse still, “These people must not like me” (self-critical).
A considerate host plans ahead, finding ways to maximize people’s chances of interacting, strategically placing food in different locations, carefully positioning the bar, and occasionally enlisting the help of a few guests to introduce newcomers, highlighting what they have in common. Smart workplaces use a similar approach. They recognize that it is the responsibility of the “host” to establish subtle techniques for integrating coworkers from the moment of their arrival. One key to getting onboarding right is stretching out the process, allowing new employees the space they need to find their bearings, organize their thoughts, and get more out of their time with coworkers.
Onboarding doesn’t have to begin with an employee’s first day of work. It can start the moment they accept a job, when their enthusiasm for a position is at an all-time high. Instead of asking HR to set the process into motion, assign a team mate or two to introduce themselves via e-mail and offer to go out for coffee. Encourage them to share information about past projects and help their new colleague learn about the significance of their role. The more context new employees have before starting, the easier it is for them to feel competent and appreciative of their teammates on their first day.
Another technique for helping colleagues connect: Introduce new hires by revealing more than just their professional background. Talk about their hobbies, their favorite TV shows, or an unusual talent of which they’re particularly proud. Remember: similarity sparks friendship. What might appear to you as a trivial detail can serve as the basis for a close colleague relationship. When employees first arrive on the job, it’s tempting to get introductory meetings out of the way as quickly as possible. Resist this urge. Far better to scatter them over a few days or weeks. That may feel inefficient at first, but not if you want new hires to be mentally present and primed to make connections. It also pays to think carefully about a new hire’s first assignment.
You can use it to do more than simply get a new employee up to speed you can use it as a tool for deepening relationships. Start new hires with a series of modest, collaborative projects that discourage isolation and allow them to collect early wins. The shared accomplishment will bolster connections while fostering a sense of team pride. If stretching out and customizing the onboarding process sounds complex, that’s because it is. And it should be. Building lasting relationships takes time. At parties, a well-handled introduction can mean the difference between guests remaining late into the night or using any excuse to leave. The same is true of the workplace. How employees feel when they first arrive shapes every impression they develop thereafter.