Posted by: healingtheworkplace | January 8, 2011

Why You Need a Friend at Work! — PS Tell Your Boss

Years ago I worked on a project called “Alone in a Crowd”. The project looked at the problem of social isolation in long term care facilities, and what could be done about it.

 It’s hard to believe but people can become isolated even with lots of other people around them.  The Alone in a Crowd Project found that people who lived in care facilities and who described themselves as isolated were at risk for depression and other health problems.

The workplace is no different!

The most compelling data about the importance of workplace relationships comes from Gallups’ Q12 Workplace Evaluations.

The Gallup organization has studied workplace relationships for years. In fact, the Gallup organization’s research led to the inclusion of “Do you have a best friend at work?” as one of the 12 questions on the popular employee engagement survey.

“The discovery of a quantifiable link between friendship and business results strongly suggests that fostering friendships should be a management priority.”

Unfortunately many managers don’t get it. This might be because they don’t understand the impact on the organization of social support and friendships among coworkers.

 In fact, many of these managers would argue that having friends at work is NOT good for business because it negatively impacts people’s ability to do their work.

Try telling that to Gen X and Gen Y. But seriously, we all need to feel connected.

For those who are still not convinced, there are some compelling reasons why employers should care about this!

“Gallup has linked the level of employee engagement to specific results, such as profitability, safety and customer loyalty.”

 In addition, having strong social support and friendships at work may reduce the amount of sick time that employees take.

 There is a growing body of knowledge making a strong argument for the link between loneliness and ill health.

 A 2009 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that loneliness was associated with diminished immunity, cardiovascular risk, obesity, alcoholism and depression.

And to make things worse, loneliness can spread from one person to another.

 Bullies thrive in environments in which people feel isolated and lonely.

What can employers and employees do? Remember we all have a stake in creating healthy workplaces.

  • Welcome new employees and help them feel connected to the organization (buddy systems are great for this).
  • Pay attention and be on the lookout for signs that someone is lonely and in need of support.
  • Provide opportunities for employees to be together, eg retirement parties, recognition events, celebrating organizational milestones and more informal social events such as BBQs, birthday parties, and company events like slow pitch baseball games or bowling nights.
  • Help leaders understand their role in building a sense of community at work.

Here’s a wonderful example from the website, Diane Marianacci is a leader whose division consistently scores exceptionally high on the Gallop 12 Employee Engagement Survey :

“according to Marinacci, that’s due to the table. Every morning, the employees of Marinacci’s division come to work and meet at a round table. They chat, talk about their caseloads, ask for advice, offer help, then head to their desks to start the day. Sometimes, they meet at the table during the day, and when there’s an office-wide issue to discuss, it happens at the table.

“More work is done at that round table during the day than could ever happen in a cubicle,” says Marinacci. “It really, really brings out some kind of team thing with this crew that is incredible. If you saw these guys, you’d be amazed.” When the Customer Service Division redesigned its office to accommodate a growing staff, Marinacci didn’t care about the colors or furniture or paint, but she wouldn’t let go of the table: “I tell my friends, if you’re a boss, you need to get a round table.”

If you look at the table through a Q12 lens, it’s obvious that the round table is the place to make opinions count, learn expectations, get praise, develop at work, discuss progress, and find opportunities to learn and grow. The table is more than furniture, and any manager can get one. “But you have to use it,” Marinacci says.

What if your employers are scattered around the globe? You’ll have to be more creative of course.

How can you create a “table” using technology?      Cheers!   Lesley


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