You’ve Got a Friend

Dina Steiner, Founder and Director of Spirit at Work ATX

May is mental health month! One of the easiest, most cost-effective ways that a company can boost the mental health and lower stress among employees is to encourage and promote better social connections among workers. Studies have consistently shown that better friendships and relationships among co-workers increases workplace happiness, which in turn benefits not only the employees but the bottom-line as well.

For the individual, having friends at work can be beneficial by making it easier to seek advice without feeling judged, allowing you to gain access to information you might not otherwise get, and creating a more pleasant work environment. People with friendly connections with co-workers report lower levels of stress as well as lower health care costs.

And, of course, happier, more engaged workers translates to the bottom line for companies. Research by Alex Edmans at the London Business School found that shareholder returns among Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” beat their peers by 2-3% over a 26 year period. In addition, just a 1% increase in worker satisfaction doubles the likelihood of them staying at the job for one additional year.

Looking for some easy ways to boost social connections?

  • Start affinity groups – book groups, coffee aficionados mornings, writing groups, etc.
  • Start support groups – Al-Anon, Weight Watchers at Work, chronic pain support, parenting, etc.
  • Sponsor a “Let’s Lunch” day to encourage workers invite a co-worker to lunch (even better – let them put it on the company tab!)
  • Host new employee lunches or cocktail hours that are purely social. Encourage people to attend several over the course of a couple months to form relationships with other newbies.
  • Start or encourage recreational sporting or gaming leagues
  • Remind managers that it is part of their responsibility to support connections among their team members, especially the introverts. The online retailer Zappos requires managers to spend 10-20% of their time just hanging out with their staff and forming connections.

Team building activities and away-days are great, but remember that introverts will resist and maybe even resent “forced participation”. Limit the number of required events and encourage low-key one-on-one connections instead.

Everyone wants to “know and be known”. Social connections are vital to emotional and mental health. And, given that workers spend at least 1/2 their waking hours at work, it seems natural that they should spend those hours among friends.

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