The Power of Two: The underestimated value of workplace friendships

The Power of Two

Andrew McNeil and Rosario Avila are award-winning senior benefits advisers collaborating to use their different perspectives to bring better solutions to employers. Reach out: andrewm@arrowbenefitsgroup.com or 707-992-3789.

Read their past columns.

As we emerge from the pandemic, work life and personal life have clearly become increasingly blurred in the modern workplace. Remote work arrangements and “always-connected” technology mean many employees spend more waking hours engaged with their jobs than in previous times.

Yet, in some professional circles, there remains a stigma around admitting that colleagues are not simply co-workers but become true friends. Workplace friendships have often been seen by many as unprofessional or unnecessary distractions. With that said, research and expert opinion continue to show us the benefits associated with forged bonds between co-workers, both for individuals and organizations.

Benefits for individuals

For many of us, having positive social connections is critical for well-being, motivation, and performance. Genuine friendships at work provide support, boost morale on difficult days, and create enjoyable social interactions that break up standard or mundane work routines. This all leads directly to higher job satisfaction, creativity, and consequently increased productivity. With Americans spending a third of their lives at work, friendships are bound to naturally develop and should not be suppressed or discouraged.

Benefits for organizations

For employers, workplace friendships can drive measurable positive business impacts. Research data shows collaborative tasks are completed faster when done among friends. Relationship based groups demonstrate better problem-solving abilities as team members feel more comfortable brainstorming and debating ideas. Having affiliations beyond solely professional roles can promote creativity. Workers report that connections lead to increased loyalty and retention when they have friends at the company. Workplace friendships can yield reduced employee turnover.

Leadership that encourages camaraderie will improve its corporate culture and see increased managerial insights. Managers who develop genuine connections with (and make the effort to understand) teams better understand and empathize with employee needs. The free flow of ideas among colleagues similarly facilitates information sharing up and down organizational hierarchies. Fostering social connections — beyond standardized corporate team building — leads to more authentic buy-in for an organization’s mission, vision, and values.

Walk that fine line

As with nearly all work scenarios, there exists potential for disruption if relationships become too personal. Executives and managers need to be aware of perceptions of favoritism or over fraternization. Cliques of friends in departments can intimidate or silence colleagues who do not feel (or are not) included. In a multigenerational workforce, it’s possible that friend groups can form along generational lines. Younger workers might feel they are blocked from taking part in the camaraderie.

At the same time, older workers may experience anxiety that they cannot “keep up” with certain groups. The same situation can occur in a diverse workplace. To promote a culture of positivity, make certain that all groups are welcome and included.

Organizational ground rules regarding conflicts of interest and exclusionary behavior may be warranted in some cases. Having said that, leaders can acknowledge that friendships do inevitably form, and should leverage the benefits of community. Pair-up teams for projects, or common interests to promote peer sharing and learning, solicit the wisdom of all your diverse groups, and share the ideas with the organization. It's time to dismiss the stigma around work friendships and embrace and explore the potential they provide.

Our surveys show that employees today express a desire for personal connections with co-workers. Leaders can recognize that when properly nurtured, these friendships organically motivate people. With so much time spent working, genuine alliances are a humanizing element that supercharge productivity, loyalty, satisfaction, and innovation.

What we’ve found

We have personally enjoyed the benefits of workplace camaraderie. We started working together in 2016 and have naturally grown and strategically fostered our friendship. What we’ve developed allows us a comfortability that goes beyond what we ever imagined productivity wise. We have established a unique vernacular and confidence bouncing ideas off each other, we have formed trust and transparency that allows us to serve and solve issues successfully for our clients.

Over the years, we have worked closely on numerous initiatives (including cowriting this column) which have been beneficial for both of us personally, and for our company. Together, we have been nationally recognized 3x, received awards, and become recognized as an insurance power duo. We have each other — and the support of our organization — to thank for those accolades.

Relationships are everything

Meaningful bonds between co-workers have always existed, though often unacknowledged. Investment in social connections fosters reciprocity and loyalty. Workers feel recognized as whole persons, increasing engagement. Historical norms dictated strict professionalism, yet present research demonstrates the benefits of supporting closer affiliations. These enliven jobs, unite teams, and boost results.

The emerging future of work should accommodate human needs for connection. Fostering this brings out the best in people, teams, and organizations. The rewards speak for themselves — as the authors of this piece we can happily attest to that.

The Power of Two

Andrew McNeil and Rosario Avila are award-winning senior benefits advisers collaborating to use their different perspectives to bring better solutions to employers. Reach out: andrewm@arrowbenefitsgroup.com or 707-992-3789.

Read their past columns.

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