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Innovation Culture Bulletin: Friendship and Productivity

Work & Lifestyle

In this month's Innovation Culture Bulletin here at Springwise, we're looking at the value of fostering friendship in your organisation.

Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.

– Albert Camus

We spend more time at work than anywhere else. According to The American Time Use survey, employees in the US spend an average of 8.7 hours in work related activities with only 2.5 on leisure and sport. Some of us choose to compartmentalize the personal and the professional when at work. A growing body of research however, shows that far more than financial incentives, friendship at work results in greater job satisfaction. It creates a more relaxed environment in which colleagues can support each other, feel comfortable to challenge each other and to innovate.

In this month’s Innovation and Culture Bulletin, we look at the value of friendship in the workplace.

Making friends at work can be difficult. Shorter job tenures means it may not seem worth investing the time, technology means it’s now easier to stay in touch with existing friends rather than make the effort to make new ones, and a busy working day means it’s all too easy to focus on productivity at the expense of taking the time to build relationships at work.

However, a number of studies point to the importance of friendship at work for recruiting top employees, retaining staff, and improving engagement, creativity, and productivity. Friendship increases employee satisfaction. A Gallup poll found that close work friendships boost employee satisfaction by 50% and that people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to engage fully in their work. It is important in terms of fostering happiness, but also fundamental to creating a sense of commitment to the company: an “esprit de corps”.

Statistics aside, if people are looking out for each other, it creates an in-built support network that is part of the company ecosystem. “When you have an authentic friend at work, you have a support system right there,” says Susan Shapiro Brash, Professor of Gender Studies at Marymount Manhattan College. Having someone with whom to share feelings of anxiety and revel in successes with can mean a healthier work life overall.

And there’s hard proof that shared experiences are more highly valued by individuals. A 2014 study by Yale University found experiences are more intensely amplified when shared with someone. It follows then, that facing challenges and celebrating successes together creates a stronger sense of emotional involvement at work: an emotional involvement from which commitment naturally grows.

In this month’s Innovation Bulletin Five we suggest ways of fostering friendship at work.

1. Start at the beginning. A person’s impression of an organisation and the way to behave within it starts forming from the word go. Think about reflecting a friendly culture in the hiring process, from the questions you ask through to the tone and setting of interviews.

In an interview for the Adam Buxton podcast, Saturday Night Live comedian Bill Hader describes the tradition of taking new comedians out to dinner, allowing them to ask whatever they want to know. Describing the logic behind this tradition, Hader explains, “The DNA of this place (SNL) is competitive but that doesn’t mean we have to be competitive with each other. And I found that such a relief.”

If you use applications like Slack and Trello, try using an innovation we wrote about, Tasytt. As well and allowing new hires access to all relevant systems at once, it introduces gamification into the process, rewarding existing employees who provide tips and advice to their new colleagues.

2. Lead by example. When creating an organisational culture, setting the tone has to come from the top and trickle down. In order to encourage friendship in the workplace, people need to feel sociable.

Springwise has recently covered innovations that enable employers to treat their staff easily. We looked at both Forkable is an AI lunchbot that makes ordering easy, allowing employees to order what they want and still eat together and, Espresa streamlines the process of booking office perks.

At Southwest Airlines, CEO Simon Kelly wanted his staff to feel as though they were part of a family. In an interview with the Huffington Post, he argues that leaders must “model the culture: spending time with employees, treating people with respect, having fun, being there for them personally and professionally, and putting people first — with empathy, kindness and compassion.”

3. Build in openness. Vulnerability is an important part of forming emotional bonds. Without it, relationships can feel superficial and meaningless. One way to bring about the opportunity for vulnerability to occur is through collaboration.

In a survey by World At Work, peer recognition remains one of the favoured forms of appraisal, with organisations noting the positive impact it has on both motivation and engagement. Try to embed systems that encourage people to recognise each other and create a culture that understands feedback as a gift so that employees feel safe to innovate without fear of criticism. Any kind of feedback is so much more meaningful when it comes from a peer.

4. Set group challenges. Camaraderie is more than just having fun. Studies have shown that soldiers form strong bonds during missions for a number of reasons: they believe in the purpose of their mission; difficult circumstances means they are forced to rely on each other; and they share the whole experience come hell or high water.

Try fostering camaraderie by making the workforce accountable to one another. For Hank Fortener, World Adoption Day and AdoptTogether.org founder, accountability is less about holding others responsible for their mistakes and more about being accountable for each other’s success. Organizations, he says, should emulate tribes with their implicit promise to each other that says, “I won’t let you fail.”

Set group challenges that your workforce can unite around, both for the purpose of achieving the goal but also for the benefit of one another.

5. Schedule play. Employers aren’t there to facilitate the relationship, but to facilitate the context for people to make relationships. Whether it’s buying lunch, fun activities during the working week, installing a games room or booking a company retreat, make time for people to spend together. Research shows that playing games for as little as 20 minutes a day with co-workers elevates mood, strengthens social bonds and builds trust. So in terms of the value added, it’s money well spent.

Step Ahead Zombies, a Springwise innovation and story themed walking challenge, splits employees into teams, encouraging them race against each other!

Listen to our friendship inspired Spotify playlist for this instalment. As always, we look forward to hearing any ideas or anecdotes you may have.