Despite the growth of hybrid working, many people still spend far more of their waking hours with colleagues than they do with their families. You might spend years searching for the right life partner, but you actually spend more time sitting five feet from Susan from Accounts, and you have pretty much no say in the matter. And, like it or not, you may well be seeing a lot more of Susan than you do of your kids (some parents may think this isn’t necessarily a bad thing).
But, actually, building a relationship with Susan (or Frank) is extremely important. Your colleagues are a huge part of your life, and having a relationship with them is important. And, it turns out, it’s important not just for you, and for Susan, but for your employer as well. A workplace where people have positive interpersonal relationships is not just a happier workplace, it’s proven to be a more efficient one too.
The benefits of strong employee relationships are manifold, including:
Increased productivity: Numerous studies have shown that a happy workplace is a productive workplace. By feeling more connected to their place of employment, workers naturally want to try harder to help keep the company going and to help it grow.
Higher employee retention: It pretty much goes without saying that you’re less likely to want to leave a job if you really value the friendships you’ve made there, and feel part of a collaborative, happy team. In a market where employers are desperate to hang on to existing employees, this is incredibly important.
Improved teamwork: Most jobs involve working as part of a team from time to time. Co-workers who are comfortable with one another are likely to work together better right from the off, as opposed to spending time feeling one another out.
Improved morale: The psychological state of an organisation's employees is typically related to their overall productivity. Having good relationships with the people you spend many hours with each workday can improve your morale, which can have a positive effect on your professional output.
Better transfer of skills and knowledge: Collaborative team settings can lead to a transfer of skills between the more experienced workers and the less experienced ones. This can ultimately benefit both the workers and the organisation.
Facilitating new employee integration: A team of co-workers who know each other well and have positive relationships can make it easier for a new team member to integrate. Picture it yourself. Would you rather join a happy, friendly team, or one where everyone walks around scowling? Exactly!
Improved creativity: Working in an environment where you feel relaxed about displaying your own personality, and with the freedom to share your ideas, can provide you with the inspiration and support you need to produce innovative proposals and thoughts that can lead to more efficient ways of doing things.
Improved health: Having strong social support is widely regarded as being an important factor for physical health, while social isolation is typically associated with a higher risk of developing serious health issues. Having positive relationships and social interactions at work can help keep you physically and mentally healthy.
But how can employers foster good relations between co-workers? You can toss a couple of beanbags around the office, and serve some lukewarm plonk on a Friday afternoon, but will that really cut the mustard?
A new study by the University of East Anglia, published by the British Journal of Management, suggests there may be another way. According to their study of 7,785 UK employees at 64 organisations, a key component in improving office relationships was introducing a wellbeing programme. The study found that the more employees engage with health and wellbeing programmes (HWPs) the better the quality of co-worker relationships, the less they experience bullying over time, and the better their longer-term wellbeing and job satisfaction.
“While organisations may adopt these programmes primarily to target employee health and wellbeing directly, we found that employees’ social relationships also benefit,” said Dr Roberta Fida, one of the study’s lead authors. “When organisations invest in wellbeing they communicate care for their employees and this is reciprocated with more respectful interpersonal interactions. This in turn significantly reduces the onset of workplace bullying and improves longer term mental and physical health as well as job satisfaction.”
But what if there was a wellbeing programme that specifically targeted improving workplace camaraderie as part of its ethos? One that could improve workers’ physical and mental health, and foster positive, friendly workplace interactions into the bargain? Surely that would be the Holy Grail of workplace wellbeing?
Well, King Arthur, call off your search – because there is one. It’s called BuddyBoost. BuddyBoost is a workplace wellbeing engagement platform. We help employees to build healthy habits by buddying-up and supporting each other with fun, month-long challenges. We provide workplace wellbeing, with mass engagement. We call it Social Wellbeing.
One of the key elements of the BuddyBoost experience is that participants form groups of ‘buddies’, who encourage one another throughout the challenge. But it doesn’t stop there. All participants join the community feed – a sort of bespoke BuddyBoost social media site, only with fewer arguments about politics and definitely no influencers. Instead, participants share photos, videos and comments, reporting back on their progress and encouraging and inspiring one another.
Time and again, BuddyBoost participants have fed back on how much the team spirit fostered during the programme has meant to them. “I found BuddyBoost to be a real conversation starter with people I hadn’t really spoken to before,” says Simon. “That was great and helps with work issues as it breaks down barriers.” Another, Jenni, reports: “I loved the fact that people get more confident as the month goes on. They post more and more things about what they’ve done, and they are prouder of what they’ve achieved. People go from being a bit reserved and a bit withdrawn to coming out of their shells.”
The importance of workplace relationships cannot be overstated, and anything that can help foster a supportive, friendly, collegiate atmosphere is to be encouraged. As Professor Rob Cross, writing for the Harvard Business Review puts it: “Many of us strive for a meaningful job, an impressive title, or a sizeable salary at the ideal company. In doing so, we drastically undervalue the importance of relationships, even though extensive research shows that it’s people, not the perfect job, that lead to fulfilment.”