Sunday, August 12, 2012

Friends Work Better Together

Note: This is the fourth in a series of articles I've written for Bluestone Coaching on using positive psychology in the workplace. I will be posting the rest of the series weekly.

“The people I work with are now some of my best friends,” said one employee in a Gallup survey.  “That makes working fun, and that gets passed on to the customers.”  Does your company encourage friendships between employees?  It should.  A Gallup poll found that of 5 million workers over the age of 35, 56 percent who say they have friends at work are more productive and successful than those who don’t.

Studies show that employees work best when certain basic needs are met.  Meeting these needs is called “employee engagement,” and it can lead to higher profits, more customer loyalty, and less employee turnover.  We discussed the first four rules of engagement in “A Positive Workplace Means a Positive Bottom Line,” “Motivate Employees with a Positive Workplace,” and “Dust Off the Suggestion Box and Increase Productivity.”  The fifth rule of engagement is:  foster friendships between your employees.

A positive workplace is the key to a successful business, and there’s nothing more positive than working with your friends.  Employees who are friends can overcome negative situations by encouraging and supporting each other, keeping the positive atmosphere going.  Good friendships also inspire creativity and communication, and lead to better teamwork.

Another bonus to having friends in the workplace is that customers notice.  Studies have found that companies who encourage friendships between employees receive customer ratings 5 to 10 percent higher than those who don’t.  When your employees are friends, your customers are your friends, and that means more steady business for your company.

While you can’t make your employees become friends, you can give them a gentle nudge with these tips from board certified business coach, Donna Deming:

Bring it out in the open.
The first step is to acknowledge friendships between employees.  Don’t ignore them, or pretend they don’t exist.  Discuss them openly at staff meetings or reviews, to help employees feel more comfortable about making friends.

Set an example.
Display friendly behavior with employees.  They’ll take their cue from you and be friendly with each other.  Employees may worry that having friends at work is unprofessional, but your example can help them find the right balance between their work and social lives.

Use the buddy system.
Encourage communication between employees by assigning two or three people to a project or task.  Employees will often open up and show their more personal sides in smaller groups.  This bonding time will help your employees to better understand each other.

Schedule regular fun time.
Encourage your employees to interact on a more personal level by scheduling regular times for socializing.  Whether it’s a monthly bowling or miniature golf outing, a company softball game, or a volunteer day, make sure the activity is something casual that everyone can do, so nobody feels excluded.

Celebrate birthdays.
Once a month, celebrate office birthdays buy taking everyone out to lunch.  Acknowledging birthdays not only makes employees feel special, but also gives them a chance to show their more personal side.  During months with no birthdays, try celebrating a silly holiday instead, like National Ice Cream Day (3rd Sunday in July), or Trivia Day (January 4).

Of course, employee friendships can sometimes cause problems, like cliques, and feelings of favoritism.  To avoid these problems, make sure your employees know that the requirements of their jobs and of the company should always take priority over friendship demands, and that any business interaction should emphasize professional judgment and responsibility over friendships.  Be aware of any employees who may feel left out of the group, and make an effort to be inclusive.

Friends work better together, and employees who are friends do their jobs better, leading to better profits for your company.  Encourage your employees to be friends and they’ll be more productive, communicate better, and they’ll be more likely to stick around.  For more information about using positive psychology in the workplace, visit http://www.bluestonecoaching.com.

Donna Deming is a board certified life coach based in New York City, with an expertise in applying
positive psychology in the workplace.  She works with small businesses to design a personalized
program to increase and sustain employee motivation and dealing with conflict.  She may be reached
at 917-463-4414, or visit her website at www.bluestonecoaching.com.

References
Bregman, P. (2010 July 1).  Why Friends Matter at Work and in Life.  Harvard Business Review.  Retrieved from http://blogs.hbr.org/bregman/2010/07/why-friends-matter-at-work-and.html
Burbach, C.  Ways to Get Your Employees to Become Friends.  About.com.  Retrieved from http://friendship.about.com/od/How_to_Be_a_Friend/tp/Ways-To-Get-Your-Employees-To-Become-Friends.htm
Harter, J.K., Schmidt, F.L., and Keyes, C.L.M. (2003).  Well-being in the workplace and its relationship to business outcomes:  A review of the Gallup studies.  In C.L.M. Keyes and J. Haidt (2003).  Flourishing:  Positive psychology and the life well-lived (pp. 205-224).  Washington, D.C.:  American Psychological Association
Harter, J.K., & Wagner, R. (2006 December).  12:  The Elements of Great Managing.  Gallup Press.  Retrieved from http://fas.ucsf.edu/FAS/14303-DSY/version/default/part/AttachmentData/data/
Herbers, A. (2012 March 26).  A Friendly Face.  Investment Advisor.  Retrieved from http://www.advisorone.com/2012/03/26/a-friendly-face

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