The link between employee friendships and staff engagement

Is there a link between employee friendships at work and staff engagement?

How employee friendships and staff engagement are intrinsically linked

The concept of a ‘best friend’ at work has long been publicised as an effective way to measure staff engagement, and it makes sense.

If you have friends in your workplace, then surely you’re satisfied with your working environment?

So is there a link between employee friendships and staff engagement or is it just a myth?

Rodd Wagner, author of the article ‘Stop Using Employee Friendships to Measure Engagement’ on, and best selling author of other publications from the New York Times offers a point of difference on the subject, explaining his increasing scepticism of the concept.

He believes firmly that “organisations are incapable of manufacturing or improving such intimate personal connections and, subsequent research has shown other factors to be more important drivers of engagement and performance.”

It’s important to note that Wagner is not claiming that friendships in the workplace aren’t important.

Of course they are.

They serve as a great source of positive emotion and support and can enhance productivity.

What Wagner claims, is that businesses shouldn’t get involved in them.

Initiatives such as team building exercises work to foster cohesion and understanding and help people get to know one another better, but Wagner argues that what they don’t do, is create personal bonds.

To the point at hand, Wagner’s recent research has indicated that friendship falls well below that of collaboration, teamwork, and coworker abilities for maintaining employee commitment and intensity.

What the data says is “If you want the most from me, give me talented colleagues and some key collaborators, and give us conditions that foster teamwork.

If we become friends, that’s great, but not crucial.”

The difference between friends and teammates

The key is making a clear distinction between that of friendships in the workplace, and strong working relationships in the workplace.

Friends, of course, make you happy, but teammates help you get things done, says Wagner.

As a leader, it’s worthwhile to focus on the aspects of work more powerful for performance today: individuality, pay equality, transparency, recognition, future prospects, leadership opportunities, corporate culture, teamwork, and personal accomplishment.

It’s also important to remember that whilst having friendships at work make it a fun place to be, without the aforementioned critical aspects of job satisfaction, an employee may still be disengaged with their work.

What’s critical to understand your employee’s satisfaction with their job is asking questions that are directly within your jurisdiction to change or control.

As a manager, you’re far less likely to be able to change the outcomes of friendships within the workplace.

What you can have influence over are aspects such as support from management, transparency, paths to advancement, recognition, creating a sense of accomplishment and maintaining high energy.

Be conscious that friendships are incredibly important, but that they will exist whether within the organisation or not.

To be confident that your employees are satisfied and engaged, Wagner suggests concentrating on those elements that directly impact a persons working life.

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