In the arguably collectivist society that we live in, our relationships are likely to mean a lot to us. As a society, we have a natural tendency to be so close knit that even today we are depend on these relationships to act as counselling relationships. These relationships help us through different stages of life and the significant changes that we encounter at different points. Therefore, it has been seen that when it comes to our work, Gallup’s question on whether we have a best friend at work is even more important.
However, how many times do we actively ask whether people in our organizations actually have such strong relationships with their co-workers? Besides asking the question when using the Gallup 12, are we really checking for it at other times?
Having a best friend at work is crucial. Gallup found that having close relationships at work is directly linked with productivity. It is linked with commitment to work as well as less likely turnover. In the age of change, one will be better able to adapt when friends who one can share anything with are also going through the same or a similar situation. It leads to more trust between people, directly impacting the resultant collaboration that we might want to see between them.
With the world of work becoming increasingly demanding and stressful, who wouldn’t want a friend around to share anything with and relieve some of that stress? With a close friend around one is also likely to always be sure that someone at work cares about them. Eventually, Gallup reported that they found a correlation of having a best friend at work with almost all their employee engagement indicators.
However, the emphasis that we put on engagement is focused on a lot of things other than the quality and depth of one’s relationship at work. It tends to be around the more tangible complexities of recognition and retention, rather than the more subtle strong friendships that could be built at work. While many studies have shown that friendships at work are contextual and go through different phases, one does spend most of one’s day at work and naturally relationships there should be of utmost importance.
Given that work also demands that we keep our professional lens on, some relationships at work can also bring about issues. For example, friendships created for furthering one’s career. A study at the University of Arizona found that the problems arise when there is a conflict of expectations. In friendships, we tend to expect that our friends will always support us no matter what the situation. At work we need to be far more objective than that. Therefore a likely conflict may arise when a supervisor who is also a friend provides negative feedback or constructive feedback.
The key to using these immensely powerful relationships at work positively is to set expectations. One’s friends at work must see him/her as fair and honest. Additionally, friends must constantly communicate – especially about difficult situations they might be in. For example, when one is in a tough situation that involves crucial decision making for the organization. We might be very passionate about a view that we hold, but may have a friend who might be passionate about another point of view. At this time when a friend questions or challenges a view point very close to our hearts, it should be based on a strong framework of communication that holds the relationship together. In fact work place friendships sometimes need to be so strong so as to hold fort through difficult tests of friendships one might not be subjected to outside the work place. This is a culturally defined aspect. If your culture leads to strong organic relationships built on trust and development, more are likely to form. However if your culture does not contain this element, some relationships are likely to be built on personal motivations or conflicting expectations.
This fine balance between authentic and honest friendships with the objectivity to make it through tough tests of trust and faith can be both powerful and dysfunctional. The beauty lies in encouraging people to build these relationships, constantly check for and encourage them in the absence of any, and finally build a culture that leads to strong friendships with firm backbones.