Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Pros and Cons of Friendships at Work

Employers who aim to improve the loyalty, efficiency, and engagement of their workforce would do well to focus on employee morale. And one of the surest ways to improve morale is to encourage camaraderie/friendship in the workplace.

When employees care about each other, they are more likely to become invested in each others’ success, communicate readily and openly, and cooperate on major projects in a way that capitalizes on their comparative advantages. (For example, “You’re better at writing, and I’m more conversational. So I’ll field phone calls while you take care of e-mails.”) Workers who have developed friendships on the job are also more likely to remain with the company, even if the work itself becomes less appealing. Finally, a reputation for camaraderie and positive employee morale may also enhance your company’s prospects for recruiting top talent.

With all of that in mind, here are some ways to encourage camaraderie in the workplace:

  Participation in community service/volunteer events. Set aside some time for employees to volunteer for a charity or non-profit organization, and allow them to choose the organization. Or you could sponsor and take part in a public event on behalf of worthy cause, like the local Terry Fox Run, or a Pride parade.

  Team-building exercises. Though they may seem clich├ęd, team-building exercises can be effective in helping employees develop a “we’re in this together” mentality. Well known examples include the mine field (leading a blindfolded person through an obstacle course) and the trust lean (catching a person as s/he falls backward). Some companies have even tried sheep-herding and scavenger hunts. In any event, remember that the purpose of the activity is to foster trust and a willingness to cooperate within the group, rather than competition between individuals. Choose accordingly.

  Empathize. Make an effort to be consistently respectful, amicable, and professional toward employees, colleagues, and clients. Practice empathy and compassion. Take the needs and concerns of your employees seriously, and take individual preferences, personality types, and working styles into account in your personnel decisions. With respect to the type of workplace atmosphere you hope to instill, be proactive and set an example.

  Keep an eye out for potential conflicts. It is axiomatic that some people simply don’t get along well with each other. Watch out for personality conflicts that you sense may become problematic, and trust your instincts. Where possible, try to match or group people you believe will work well together. If you find that one individual in particular doesn’t seem to collaborate effectively with anyone, you may need to take that person aside to address a specific issue, or even consider letting her go.

The downsides

As the title of this post suggests, the effects of camaraderie in a professional setting are not all rosy. Possible disadvantages include ruptured friendships if one friend departs and the other remains, and more time spent socializing (which may detract from productivity). In certain cases, friendships at work can lead to the formation of cliques and even divided loyalties—consequences that you’ll need to watch out for. As a manager or business owner, you’ll also need to remain cognizant of the line between friendliness toward your employees and friendship with them. While it’s possible to be friendly toward someone while maintaining an air of professionalism, it can be very difficult to reconcile the obligations of management with the responsibilities and commitments of friendship.

In most cases, though, the positive effects of workplace camaraderie far outweigh these potential difficulties, and the challenge of maintaining an affable but professional workplace atmosphere is manageable.