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Should managers encourage workplace friendships?

March 13, 2019

In business, there is always a risk when it comes to forming friendships with colleagues, with an added distance making it easier to have those tough conversations if one colleague holds a more senior role. Yet there’s a body of research which suggests that the stronger the bonds are between colleagues the more successful the organisation.

In their Q12 engagement survey Gallup came up with just 12 statements to identify the primary indicators of employee engagement and performance. One of these was ‘Do you have a best friend at work?’

Gallup’s research found that employees with a best friend at work were seven times more likely to engage fully in their work and that these people tend to feel much higher levels of job satisfaction.

What may be more startling is the impact of not having friends at work:

– Communication is restricted, often because information is withheld

– Mistrust becomes endemic and has to be combated by introducing lengthy and often inefficient processes

– Staff turnover is high

– Office gossip and politics become more frequent

– People work to differing objectives and lose a shared sense of purpose

– Poor performance results

America’s hugely admired Southwest Airlines actively encourages friendships at work. Their CEO Gary Kelly expects his CEO of Southwest Gary Kelly expects the leaders in his company to “model the culture: spending time with employees, treating them with respect, having fun, being there for them personally and professionally, and putting people first – with empathy, kindness and compassion.”

This approach has served them well and their market share has continued to grow. The company also managed to achieve a four-decade long period of profit and reported earnings and revenue for Q1 2013 that exceeded Wall Street expectations (source NASDAQ.com, 24 July 2013).

The more cynical of those in business would argue that friendships can lead to wasted time, carelessness and the possibility of chaos should friendships go wrong. The key here is for businesses to build an environment where leaders are also clear about their team’s purpose and the organisation’s vision and values. If this is then passed on to the team and they understand what is required of them during their time at work, then letting staff build bonds with colleagues is only to be encouraged.

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