Let’s Nurture High-Quality Connections at Work

Photo by Antenna on Unsplash

As the December festivities approach, it is a great time to think about important people in our lives and feel gratitude for them, as, indeed, our close relationships are one of the greatest resources we have. In his recently released bestseller ‘Plays well with others´, author and speaker Eric Barker relies on relevant research to make a strong case for quality relationships, and especially friendships. Here are some of the interesting points made by Eric:

  • friends make you happier than pretty much anything else in life
  • having few friends is more dangerous than obesity and is the equivalent health risk of smoking 15 cigarettes a day
  • if you can count at least three dear friends at the office, you are 96 percent more likely to be extremely satisfied with life in general

Indeed, given how much time we spend at work each day, it makes perfect sense to strive for close friendships in our workplaces.

A recent Gallup data indicates that having a ‘best friend’ at work contributes to work experience, engagement and job success in a substantial and positive way. Moreover, the importance of having close friendships at work seems to have increased since the pandemic, even, or maybe especially, with the prevalence of remote and hybrid work nowadays.

In short, friendships at work matter, but that is hardly big news and indeed makes some sense, right? Well, reality and practice are not that simple. Research by Mareike Ernst and colleagues published in the American Psychologist indicates that loneliness has increased around the world with the Covid pandemic. Moreover, the high levels of hybrid and remote work, which are here to stay beyond the pandemic conditions, do not seem to help. For example, a relevant Forbes article highlights an important difference between being connected and having high-quality connections. Given the range of technological possibilities in hybrid and remote work, we are unlikely to feel a lack of contact with other people. On the contrary, sometimes the problem is in never ending communication via phone messages, social media channels, online meeting tools and e-mails. Yet, the benefits of relationships and connections seem to be there only when they are of high quality. Let’s see, how many Facebook friends do you have? You already know that this number doesn´t mean much in terms of actual friendships, right? The type of friendships which make us happier, healthier, and better are the close and meaningful friendships, the ones in which we can share our intimate matters, including real worries, troubles, and pains. According to Eric Barker’s book, in 1985 most people indicated having 3 close friends, while in 2004 the most common answer was zero.

Hence, even though the notion and real benefits of close friendships are obvious, what is often forgotten is that we need to work on them, we need to earn them… Naturally, there is no special magic or a quick fix to making and keeping friends. In fact, we might be better off approaching friendships as any other important matter that we need to invest in. Also, given the positive correlations between friendships at work and business outcomes, it would be silly for companies not to care. As the Inc.com columnist Rohini Venkatraman puts it, ‘Good leaders not only encourage friendships among employees, but also help facilitate them´. In the context of organizations, we should speak about culture, which prioritizes and encourages friendships. For example, the basic principles of social psychology suggest that the potential for any relationships starts from proximity, namely, the opportunity to meet each other, and the more the better. As such, a friendship-oriented culture means deliberately creating such opportunities, be it small daily rituals at work (e.g. common coffee time) or larger team-building events. Another factor needed for the development of any relationship is getting to know each other, the deeper the better. Naturally, pushing for personal sharing is not always a good idea, yet generally supporting communication beyond work topics, being genuinely interested in the lives of employees, and appropriately sharing about yourself could be helpful to set the cultural norm. Finally, let me suggest that December might be just the right month to start investing into friendships. For one, usually around Christmas time the workflow becomes more relaxed and there lies the opportunity to hang out more at work. For another thing, there is this ‘Christmassy magic’ in the air, which makes many of us friendlier, kinder, and easier to approach 🙂

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