General Training

Should You Help Employees Make Friends in the Workplace?

The Gallup Q-12, a well-known employee engagement assessment tool, contains a question that has often given people pause: Question #10 asks, “Do you have a best friend at work”? While seemingly “odd,” the question is included for a good reason. Gallup research has correlated having a best friend in the workplace with higher rates of job satisfaction—and a reduced likelihood that an employee will leave the company to seek a job elsewhere.

The problem is, the number of employees today who say they have a best friend, or even a friend, in the workplace, is on the decline. According to an article in The New York Times, “In 1985, about half of Americans said they had a close friend at work; by 2004, this was true for only 30 percent.”

O.C. Tanner, an employee recognition company, reports Inc., tested the idea that having a best friend at work really makes a difference and found that:

  • 75 percent of employees with a best friend at work said they “feel they’re able to take anything on,” compared to 58 percent who didn’t have a best friend at work
  • 72 percent with a best friend at work were satisfied with their jobs, compared to 54 percent who didn’t have a best friend at work and weren’t satisfied with their work

So, the data are in. But what should you do about it?

While companies like Google and Facebook are widely known for their foosball tables and fun employee activities, you don’t necessarily have to go to that extreme to encourage interactions that can lead to friendship (although it may not be a bad idea). Gary Beckstrand, vice president of O.C. Tanner, recommends:

  • Schedule enjoyable “offsites” to give employees an opportunity to come together in a nonwork setting.
  • Ensure that employees aren’t chained to their desks for the entire workday, focused more on their computers and Slack chats than real-life interactions.
  • Consider scheduling team lunches or social breaks.

Here are some additional suggestions for creating a climate that nurtures friendships:

  • Allow some social time at the beginning of meetings or conference calls, rather than diving right into business.
  • Don’t be overly sensitive to the time employees may spend “around the water cooler” or chatting in the breakroom; these interactions are important.
  • Encourage leaders, including senior leaders, to attend the social functions that the company sponsors—picnics, holiday parties, etc.

Finally, be friendly yourself. While you don’t have to “make friends” with employees, necessarily, projecting a friendly demeanor and supporting social interactions yourself can help to nurture a workplace climate that breeds the kind of friendships that can boost engagement, loyalty, and longevity.