If you’ve been fortunate enough to retain employees through the turmoil of the past few years, you might now be focusing on other challenges. For many managers, today’s top challenge is how to lure team members back to the office. One unique strategy for solving this problem may be helping team members form work friendships. When that happens, employee improvement follows.
The Connection Between Employee Improvement and Work Friends
The increasing isolation of U.S. adults has been widely reported and is a trend made famous by Robert D. Putnam and his essay, Bowling Alone. As U.S. adults engaged more with entertainment formats like television programming on a nightly basis, they joined fewer groups and formed fewer friendships.
When the pandemic started, we had even more reason to isolate ourselves. And we lost another key source of friendship, the workplace. A BetterUp Labs report, highlighted by Gwen Moran for FastCompany, reveals that “22% of people don’t even have one friend at work.” In addition, “more than half of respondents to a survey said, “they would trade some of their compensation for stronger ties with colleagues.”
If you used a personality assessment platform to build your team, you’ve taken one step in the right direction. You know which people have specific skills and workplace behavioral tendencies. If your team members are working in the office, they're connecting and making friends with co-workers who have similar skills or behavioral tendencies. But if your team is working remote, and some of your members have never met each other, they need to connect.
Moran suggests employers “prioritize connection over convenience.” The need to generate profit is always present and you have have employees who don't want to return to the office. But they will work better together when they feel they know and can trust their team members. We uncovered this detail in our Voice of the Sales Rep survey. Over 25% of sales professionals have left an organization because they felt nobody cared about them. The lack of connection doesn't just mean supervisors and leaders. The feeling of isolation extends to co-workers as well. You can strengthen employee engagement and loyalty by offering in-person events, at the office, where your team members can get to know each other.
Help Your New Hires Navigate the Company
If your organization is committed to working remote, you can contribute to employee improvement by helping new team members find their place. This strategy requires having groups, either formal or informal, that chat online regularly for a few minutes right before the workday starts or during midday breaks. Whether the groups are dedicated to a favorite streaming show or sports team matters little. The group could also be comprised of people who participate in a volunteer project sponsored by the organization. The point is that individuals are unguarded during these communications and reveal something about themselves. And these communications help new hires understand and empathize their co-workers.
In-Person Gatherings and Employee Improvement
Regular meetings at the corporate office or a centrally-located conference center matter too. Managers must recognize that when employees connect in person, they discover shared interests which often spark ideas for product or service enhancements. These connections can change a team member’s attitude and energy level regarding work and result in employee improvement.
Experts also emphasize that the youngest employees, those who entered the workforce during the pandemic, don’t understand the value of in-person connections. If they do, they may not have the confidence to reach out online to make a connection. But they'll find it easier to connect in person at a company-sponsored event.
Journalist Michael Lewis has explained the unique quality of work friendships, a detail which was reported in the New York Times. “What distinguishes the work friendship is that there’s a product, that you’re actually creating something together.” These friendships can endure for decades. They can help your employees develop a sense of their work selves and identify passions, all of which is good for your organization and even better for their careers. Proactive managers won’t wait for these friendships to develop on their own. They'll take action to help employees find work friends and contribute to employee improvement.
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