According to Gallup, more than 300 million people globally don't have a single friend. More than 20% of them don't have friends or family they can count on whenever they need them. Millions of people struggle with loneliness every day.
The average person spends around eight hours a day, five days a week working. That's roughly 40 years or 76,800 hours in total.
According to HBR studies, not only are people who have a “best friend at work” happier and healthier, but they're also seven times as likely to be engaged in their job. Moreover, employees who report having friends at work tend to have higher levels of productivity, retention, and job satisfaction than those who don't.
Ironically, according to a Gallup survey of CHROs of the world’s largest companies, social well-being is often least invested in - despite it being key to employee happiness. Only 30% of employees strongly agree they have a best friend at their place of employment. This can have detrimental effects on their physical and mental health such as depression and anxiety which will cause low performance in the workplace.
Leaders can help to mitigate employee loneliness by firstly being their friends at work. They can be a source of emotional support and camaraderie in times of need. It’s also important that leaders create an environment for employees to confide in them and connect the employees to befriend each other.
It is understandable that friendly leaders might be taken for granted by employees and hence impact the organisatinal effectiveness. How can leaders find the balance between being cordial with employees without compromising performance expectations?
Here are some things leaders can do to create the ideal balance between being a friend and a leader and maintain team performance:
1. Foster social connections.
Make an effort to learn about their interests and hobbies outside of work by asking questions, engaging in conversations, and simply paying attention. Take the time to get to know their families and friends by asking about them, attending social events, and staying in touch. Find ways to connect with team members on a deeper level by sharing personal stories and talking about shared interests.
A study by the Harvard Business Review found that employees who have a close relationship with their boss are more engaged, productive, and satisfied with their job. Therefore, building personal relationships with team members is essential for improved employee performance and morale.
2. Be empathetic
A brain-imaging study by the University of Leuven in Belgium showed that when people feel empathy, their brains light up with activity. Empathy is essential for leaders to understand their team member's individual needs. This helps foster trust, connection, and friendship which is essential for any successful organisation.
Another study from Cornell University found that employees need to feel like their leader “gets them,” and is listening to their concerns. So, take the time to really listen to your team members and show that you understand their points of view, even if you don’t agree with them.
Therefore, creating a comfortable, supportive work environment should be a top priority for any leader. Showing empathy towards team members is essential to establishing an emotional connection with them, and in turn, would fortify team performance and productivity.
3. Create interactive opportunities for friendships to blossom
A study by the American Psychological Association found that one of the best ways for people to form relationships is through shared experiences. Leaders should create opportunities for employees to interact with each other and build relationships through team-building activities or social events. This can help to break down barriers between colleagues, promote better understanding and trust, and create a more positive work environment. One of the best ways to ensure team performance is by creating an environment that nurtures trust and friendship.
In conclusion, by fostering social connections, being empathetic to team members, and creating interactive opportunities for relationships to blossom, leaders can make a difference in the workplace. These efforts will help to create a sense of camaraderie and improve team performance as employees become more engaged and motivated. Additionally, when leaders take the time to really get to know their team members and build strong relationships, it does not just benefit the team, but also the leader in return.
A team that works together in harmony and achieves success is a reward for anyone who has invested their time and effort into it. In the words of Henry Ford, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success”. Working together requires one to have friends if not best friends at work.