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From colleagues to best friends – workplace BFFs

April 5, 2019

By Keisha Ward, courtesy SBAM Approved Partner ASE

When it comes to evaluating employee engagement it has been shown that employers need to ask their staff one simple question, do you have a best friend at work? It may seem a bit silly or trivial at best; but it is true. This question happens to be one of the most important ways to assess whether your team members are happy, at work. 

Earlier this month ASE hosted its annual HR Conference, during the event one of the speakers addressed a topic titled: It’s Hard to be Engaged When I’m Exhausted. In this session, Susan Morgan Bailey of Marsh & McLennan Agency shared Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs at Work. In it, it was revealed that belongingness and love: intimate relationships and friendships fell into the high-level need category. Susan went on to share that approximately 100 million people in the U.S. work full-time. Of that, 53% are not inspired by their work and 17% are actively disengaged. So, it might be beneficial for employers to rethink office BFFs. 

Do you have a best friend at work? describes this question as one of the most controversial questions in employee engagement research that they have asked in 30 years. To some, it lacks purpose in the corporate environment. However, research shows that this could not be further from the truth. In fact, it is a question that many employers now incorporate into their employee surveys or during performance evaluations, and it has proven to directly correlate to employee staying power.  

Are friendships encouraged or frowned upon in your office? 
Some leaders view office friendships or BFFs (Best Friends Forever) as a direct threat to productivity. They think too much talking and not enough working can reduce productivity and jeopardize the bottom line. It turns out that this is not always the case. More often, the reverse is true. Studies show that spending a few moments or even a lunch break to chat with a colleague about things that really matter to them such as their family, upcoming vacation plans, or supporting one another through a difficult time improves overall moral and builds bonds.

According to a survey conducted by Gallup, 30% of respondents who reported having a best friend at work were seven times more likely to be engaged.  And 63% of women who say they have a best friend at work are twice as likely to be engaged. 
People who are engaged at work are: 

  • Less likely to seek outside employment
  • Highly creative and openly share ideas and innovation
  • Less stressed at work and more productive

The other side of office friendships: 
Negativity is contagious and can be a means for colleagues to form bonds. If one person spreads negativity to their work BFF, the chances of that person showing signs of negativity increase considerably. Combat it by addressing signs of negativity quickly through coaching and training. 

If you are seeking ways to improve morale, turn-over, and productivity within your team or office environment, Gallup suggests we consider these options to encourage work friendships, which ASE also embraces: 

1.      Encourage people to get to know one another personally: During a new hire’s first week, ASE pairs new employees with a “buddy”, who is normally a coworker from another internal team. The buddy’s first responsibility is to take the new employee to lunch. This is designed to build relationships and bridge the gap to promote cross-team collaboration and belonging.

2.      Promote and participate in social activities:  ASE’s Fun Committee plans and schedules a host of social activities for all employees. These activities take place during or after work hours and range from a night at a Detroit Tiger’s game to a simple office potluck or bake-off competition.  It keeps morale up and encourages staff to get to know one another.

There are many ways to promote and encourage office friendships, but in most cases, it happens organically. No matter how it takes place, it can benefit your company a number of ways.  Encourage these bonds by starting with a simple question…Do you have a best friend at work?  

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