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Perspectives

Work friends: a powerful yet neglected tool in a manager’s playbook

  • The leaders in 2023 will definitely need to approach their team with a high level of emotional intelligence
Published January 20, 2023
Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters
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Have you ever had a friend at work that made you laugh endlessly through their nonsensical notions while also being your sense of sanity? Well, this individual is a business’ free package of talent retention, employee engagement and organisational therapy.

According to recent Gallup research, a work-best friend in the post pandemic world has become more important in “outcomes such as employees’ likelihood to recommend their workplace, their intent to leave and their overall satisfaction with their workplace”.

A BetterUp Labs study revealed that workers who had lower levels of connection had a 313 percent stronger intention to leave, 176 percent higher probability of searching for alternate jobs and a 39 percent higher attrition rate compared to those who felt more connected.

Even Einstein found the benefits of work friendship through Michele Besso, whom he claimed to be the best sounding board in Europe and thus, discussed quantum mechanics, general relativity and other theories of which we are reaping rewards from to this day.

There must have been numerous times a conflict was diffused, friends collaborated and brainstormed for another’s project, or simply someone decided to give the business another chance because of the friendships made.

More than just a job

The business has become more than just a workplace for the individual. Whereas before people used to fulfill different needs from a variety of organisations - like a neighborhood, family, religious organisations etc. - increasingly, the individual now turns to the business to satisfy their social quota.

Remote work definitely plays a big role in the story of how human connection is becoming increasingly harder at the workplace, but the decline had started long ago. With the onset of a global world, hoards of employees have been packing up their lives at home and thus, severing years of social connections as they relocate to pursue work opportunities. The isolation and social cost of such relocations have been underestimated.

We spend most of our lives at work after graduating, so it is no wonder that YouGov’s research claims that making friends at work is second only to making them in high school or college.

Priority for 2023

It takes about 34 hours of investment to transform a feeble acquaintance into a solid friendship, according to a Fisherman’s Friend study. If you spend at least two hours a week in some sort of team interaction - this translates into almost a third of year. Connections take time and it is an effort that needs to be done continuously and consistently.

It seems like a very simple concept, but fostering it is more complex and its rewards are plenty.

The leaders in 2023 will definitely need to approach their team with a high level of emotional intelligence. They will need to approach this issue with sensitivities to a generational difference in how connections are made - Boomers preferring face to face interaction and Generation Z preferring social media.

Another dimension to appreciate is the extrovert versus the introvert. The workplace used to be comfortable way for the introvert to have social interactions whereas the extrovert used to take it as adding variety to their social mix. There are also gender differences where research indicates that women need more connection at work.

Being creative will have its benefits especially with digital interactions, like Salesforce’s Trailblazer Ranch that allows employees to have nature walks, yoga, cooking classes and meditation together. Team building exercises will need to go beyond the superficial level and focus on intentional collaboration instead. Managers will need to create more opportunities for their team members to have individualized and meaningful experiences together.

But what about the new digital age, the remote or hybrid work reality?

“For all the wonders of the digital world, Zoom isn’t the answer to intimacy,” says Oxford University’s Dr Robin Dunbar who is renowned for his theory of meaningful relationships. While referring to the digital interactions during the lockdown, he says: “With friends there was something missing, and the physicality of being in the same room together just isn’t there.”

The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners

Khadija Husain

The writer is a HR professional based in the US

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Muneeb Ahmad Jan 21, 2023 07:51am
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