Thursday 30 July is International Friendship Day. Reflection on friendship and why it is important for our well-being is of special value during the COVID-19 pandemic, because social distancing measures can easily lead to feelings of isolation, loneliness and depression.
Friendships are formed in various circumstances and locations, and the workplace is one of them. Not all workplace friendships extend to socialising outside of work, but that does not mean that they are not important.
In the book Social Chemistry, Yale professor Marissa King explains that teams of friends perform better. Employees with supportive coworkers have a better work/life balance and are less stressed. Strong personal ties also increase information and idea-sharing, lead to improved self-confidence and people who have good mates at work are generally more efficient in and satisfied with their jobs.
Employees of Knauf Australia will be familiar with the Gallup survey on employee engagement. This survey was distributed to employees again last year, and for many the “Do you have a best friend at work?” question was a strange one.
But Gallup maintains that there is very good reason to include this question, and they have been doing so for 30 years. “Our research has repeatedly shown a concrete link between having a best friend at work and the amount of effort employees expend in their job. For example, women who strongly agree they have a best friend at work are more than twice as likely to be engaged (63%) compared with the women who say otherwise (29%),” they say.
Gallup also found a strong link between office friendships and overall engagement activities: “Those who have a best friend at work are seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs, are better at engaging customers, produce higher quality work, have higher well-being, and are less likely to get injured on the job.”
Of course, it’s much easier to form good friendships if you spend 40 hours a week at the office in close proximity of your colleagues. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review explains why: People generally need 80 to 100 hours together before they can call one another a friend and more than 200 hours before they would deem themselves “best” friends.
Naturally spending time together was easier in the pre-COVID-19 days. With social distancing measures in place, communication between colleagues has changed. Conversations may be more work-oriented and to the point. With many people working remotely, coworkers may be less likely to engage in friendly conversations and the idle chitchat like they would normally have in the office kitchen.
But, as a recent article on Forbes.com points out, having work friends are more important than ever. “Make the most of your relationships with others at work by bonding over work tasks, avoiding competing with others, helping others, being real, listening and offering challenging perspectives,” the article advises.
Like with all friendships, work friendships need time and effort to flourish, and without the benefit of sharing a close office space we just need to find another way to do this. Beyond Blue suggests that one of the most important things we can all do for mental health is to check in with each other. “While we’re all being advised to stay at home and self-isolate, make the most of social media and apps such as Skype, Google Hangouts and FaceTime, or simply chat over the phone,” they suggest.
“There is no doubt that we are celebrating International Friendship Day under very strange circumstances this year, but I want to encourage all Knauf employees to reach out to each other today – not to talk about work, but only to check in. Have that chat you would normally have in the office, and reach out to somebody you haven’t heard from in a while,” said Knauf Australia’s HR Director Phil Renwick.
“It is important to maintain good mental health during the pandemic, and nurturing friendships at work is an important part of that.”
Have a happy Friendship Day!