Every good business leader understands the importance of creating a respectful and collaborative work environment for employees. But many don’t realize the value in creating a culture that promotes friendship among work colleagues too. Friendship is a key driver of employee engagement, but for many of today’s workers, it’s lacking.
In our study of over 12,000 employees across multiple industries and segments, we found friendship at work to be significantly low among some key groups. Baby boomers (particularly those with a company tenure of 10 years or more), as well as Generation Z (born 1997 or later), scored lowest on friendship. We also found job type to be a factor, as workers out in the field scored lower on friendship than their counterparts behind the desk. While employees in other generations and job types fared slightly better on friendship, scores were still pretty low across the board, indicating the need for a major friendship overhaul in the workplace.
[bctt tweet=”Did you know friendship is one of the 17 drivers of #EmployeeEngagement?” username=”15five”]
Business leaders can’t force friendships, but they can create a culture where they’re more likely to thrive. Here are five things you can do in your organization to better promote employee friendships:
1. Support employee-led special interest groups.
When employees with shared interests are given the opportunity to interface regularly, friendships are sure to blossom. But for these groups to really flourish, it’s best if employees take the lead on organizing. (Company-led groups can sometimes feel more like a work obligation than a true social opportunity.) To help facilitate the success of these groups, business leaders can provide support through technology, space, and budget. Enterprise tools like Slack can be used to create an online meeting space for employee groups to gather and share content. And of course, providing physical space for events and budget for refreshments are great ways in which companies can lend their support.
2. Encourage peer-to-peer recognition.
Publicly recognizing employees for their accomplishments is a great way to boost engagement. Recognition by a peer can create stronger team camaraderie—and a greater chance for friendships. A great practice we have at 15five is quarterly peer recognition. Three employees are recognized each quarter based on praise submitted by colleagues, and the comments are read aloud in our all-team meeting. These individuals are awarded a gift card, then given an additional gift card to pass on to a colleague they would like to recognize for supporting their efforts.
3. Pair older workers with younger ones.
As mentioned above, our research shows baby boomer and Generation Z employees score low on friendship in the workplace. Fortunately, there is a way to help both groups find friendship, and that is by pairing them up together. Harvard Business Review found that putting older and younger workers together help both groups perform better on the job. They make good teammates and are less competitive with each other than workers in the same age group might be. Finding common ground on work tasks is a great jumping-off point for friendship, and pairing together employees from different age groups bring together individuals that might not have naturally gravitated toward one another.
[bctt tweet=”HBR found that putting older and younger workers together help both groups perform better on the job. They make good teammates and are less competitive with each other than workers in the same age group might be. #EmployeeEngagement” username=”15five”]
4. Incorporate friendship time into meetings.
Instead of jumping right into work topics, allow five minutes or so at the beginning of your team meetings for friendship time (when appropriate). It’s important to put time on the agenda that is carved out for things like asking people about their weekend plans, how their families are, or how that new movie was they went to see. It gives employees a chance to recognize one another as human beings with lives outside of work, and could even be the spark that ignites a new friendship or two. (It’s also a nice buffer to have in place at the beginning of the meeting for people who may be running late.)
5. Promote cross-team collaboration on projects.
Many employees (particularly those not in leadership roles) don’t get regular opportunities to interact with people outside their immediate work teams. By making projects more cross-functional, employees at different levels and areas of the organization get more face time. This is not only good for promoting friendship but great for idea sharing and innovation too. Employees on the same work teams tend to think alike and have similar ideas, but when they’re exposed to individuals with a different way of thinking (e.g., a salesperson and an engineer) ideas can blossom.
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Want to learn more about all 17 drivers of engagement? Download our latest Employee Engagement Trends report for revealing insights about workplace culture and tips to help better engage your employees.