Building and maintaining strong relationships is essential to our longevity and happiness. An 80-year Harvard study  shows that close relationships are the number one factor in keeping people healthy and happy throughout their lives. Strong relationships protect people from difficult times, ward off mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of longevity than social class, IQ, or genetics. Some people are quick to separate their work and personal lives and do not form strong bonds with those they work with, however, workplace relationships are extremely important in creating personal connections and making us more motivated and productive at work.
Research shows that workers who have friendships with co-workers report that their job is more fun, enjoyable, and satisfying. These friendships impact not only the individuals, but they have tremendous implications for the workplace too. A study  conducted by Gallup showed that employees who have a best friend at work are seven more times more likely to be engaged in their jobs and this engagement translates directly into bottom line results. Employees who are engaged produce higher quality work, report higher levels of well-being, and are less likely to be injured on the job. In contrast, employees without a best friend at work have only a 1 in 12 chance of being engaged and report lower levels of job satisfaction and happiness.
From these studies, it’s clear that relationships are important not only for the health and longevity of employees but also for company performance. However, in many organizations, the social activities that are needed to foster relationships take a backseat to workloads and deadlines. Not to mention that many employees are stressed out and this means that they become less engaged in workplace social activities. As life gets busier, people’s social networks often become smaller. Many people can hardly make enough time for themselves and their families, let alone make the time to attend company sponsored potlucks and sports teams.
The good news is that workplace social activities don’t have to be elaborate to be effective. When one organization conducted a Q12  survey, they noticed that hardly anyone had a best friend at work. To encourage employees to form stronger relationships at work, the company created a coffee and doughnut social each morning and also organized a few company outings. The results from these small changes were significant: when the survey was repeated a year later, 60% of employees said that they had a best friend at work. These changes also had a huge impact on the overall level of engagement: it increased from the 53rd percentile of all organizations to the 97th percentile. Creating a social workplace that encourages employees to connect and form friendships doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive:
Schedule social time, but keep it informal
A daily or weekly office coffee break can help get employees away from their desks and all you need to provide are doughnuts and coffee. Formal company events like lunches or dinners can be stressful for employees, but grabbing a coffee in the lunch room is easy and non-intimidating.
Find ways to get employees working with colleagues who aren’t a part of their regular team. Encouraging employees to foster relationships outside of their immediate team can break down company silos, encourage innovation, and offer employees more resources for support.
Communicate more in-person
There are a lot of collaboration and productivity tools that are great for making communication more efficient, but they make it less necessary for people to communicate face-to-face. If colleagues are in the same office, regular In-person meetings are an easy way to foster stronger connections. For teams that work remotely, video conferencing can help make conversations more personal.
Having strong workplace relationships contributes to a person’s overall well-being. As individual well-being increases, it has a positive effect on the organization and teams become more productive, more collaborative and more innovative. Fostering a culture that promotes healthy, friendly relationships and a supportive environment will set off the chain reaction that leads to great work and bottom-line business results.
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