Executive Education

Encourage workplace friendships to increase the bottom line

In late 2018, Ernst & Young instigated a ‘Belonging Barometer’. This study of more than 1000 employees confirmed evidence that exclusion is a growing issue in organisations, with more than 40% of those surveyed feeling physically and emotionally isolated in the workplace.  Data from OC Tanner’s 2018 Global Culture Report also shows that 42% of respondents do not have a close friend at work. While 46% percent of respondents reported feeling lonely. This connection deficit is having a huge impact on the results and success of organisations globally.

A study by Gallup revealed that companies with engaged workforces have higher earnings per share and even recovered at a faster rate from the recession. Often organisations see the solution to strengthening connection in a workplace as a technology issue. Online tools are implemented as a way of getting people to converse and share more. More online conferences are held across different time zones. Yet technology is an enabler, it is never the solution to a human issue.

In reality, companies that are voted ‘best place to work’ or an ‘employer of choice’ value and foster connection among their teams, colleagues and employees. As Sylvia Vorhauser-Smith, senior vice president of research at PageUp People, puts it, these companies are ‘meeting the more altruistic and basic human needs of feeling connected and being an important part in something bigger’. Prolific author and researcher Brené Brown describes connection as ‘the energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard and valued – when they can give and receive without judgment’.

Numerous studies show that as human beings we are hardwired for connection. In his book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, Matthew Lieberman explains, ‘Our need to connect is as fundamental as our need for food and water’. On the flipside, when we experience disconnection, the reaction is as real as physical pain. Cortisol and adrenaline increase in our body, triggering the ‘fight’ stress response. This makes us respond to our environment as if it is hostile, like we’re out of place.

When people feel disconnected then it is likely that they feel undervalued and unhappy. With no emotional connection to their work or to others, they usually take more sick days and there are performance and behavioural issues, which can lead to harm and disruption to the entire business.  Which is why simply encouraging connection and friendships at work can solve this growing issue.

A ‘Health and Well-Being Study’, also conducted by OC Tanner, concluded that friendships at work means there is higher sense of belonging and loyalty to a company, which is also profitable.   That reflects a Gallup study which showed only two out of 10 American employees strongly agree to having a best friend at work. If that ratio increased to six in 10, there would be 36% fewer safety incidents, 7% more engaged customers and 12% higher profit.

When employees are encouraged to have friends, to connect, communicate and collaborate together, this leads to an increase in productivity and motivation, not to mention happiness. This only has a positive impact on retention and company loyalty.

Written by Michelle Sales.

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Michelle Sales
Michelle Sales is a highly sought-after speaker, trainer, facilitator and coach who helps senior leaders and their teams learn to show up as the best version of themselves, to build their confidence and influence with others, and to maximise their leadership and performance. She is the author of the book "The Power of Real Confidence". Michelle is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine.