Build friendships at work and watch productivity soar
I remember when I first interned at an organisation. The director of the department prohibited social interaction between team members.
Members were isolated in their cubicles and the vibe in the department was pretty restrictive.
I felt like I was in the army. Besides the tasks that were assigned to me, I did not learn much from my colleagues' experiences nor did I get to know them that well.
The reason this is alarming is because of the importance of co-worker friendships and the positive effect it has on productivity.
Research shows that employees are happier in their jobs when they are friends with their co-workers.
In fact, research on the state of the American workplace by Gallup Consulting found that companies in the United Stated with an engaged workforce have higher earnings per share and seem to have recovered from the financial recession more quickly.
In addition, co-worker friendships increase employees' satisfaction by 50 per cent. The study also found that employees, who had a best friend where they work, are seven times more likely to be fully engaged in their jobs.
Establishing good friendships between co-workers is more than just about having fun and chit-chatting. It is also about creating a common mentality and a sense of purpose which all employees share.
When employees share a common mentality and belief about the company's direction, it would not be hard for them to reach their objectives and deliver projects in time.
Moreover, friends at work provide a good support system for each other, whether by giving career advice or being there for each other when times are rough.
Co-worker friendships and earning a promotion are also highly related.
Research by Shawn Achor, a lecturer on positive psychology at Harvard University, found that people who initiate office friendships and are engaged in official social activities are 40 per cent more likely to get a promotion.
Fostering employee friendships is better achieved when it is embedded and encouraged through the corporate culture.
Google provides a textbook example of an organisation which fosters co-worker friendships and engagement.
The corporation is designed to project a dorm-like environment, which encourages employees to interact and exchange ideas with each other. Google's culture and strategy is one of the reasons why it is ranked number one in the best companies to work for by CNN this year, and by other surveys.
The Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin successfully and personally projected their own culture to their work, which I believe is what makes them unique as they preserved their start-up cultural feel even after they grew into a multibillion dollar international corporation.
Every week, in Google's all-hands meetings, Googlers (Google's employees) directly ask questions to Mr Page and Mr Brin and other company executives about company-related issues.
Fostering co-worker friendships should start with the leaders of the organisation. The chief executive and the upper management must model the culture they would like to embed in the workplace.
They can do so by spending more time with their employees, discussing non-work related topics every now and then, have fun, and most importantly be there for them not only on a professional level, but a personal one.
A good idea that would assist in delivering this is planning an outdoor field trip for all employees, which would include team-building sports. Or perhaps plan a weekly casual lunch or coffee beak at the organisation's common area, where staff members can mingle casually and get to know each other more.
Some would argue that co-worker friendships would result in lost working hours, professional jealousy and the formation of different gangs or cliques.
Nonetheless, I believe that these side effects can be maintained and the benefits resulting from developing healthy friendships for both employees and the company outweigh the negative outcomes.
In an increasingly international and virtual work environment fostering friendships between co-workers might present a challenge to the organisation.
However if the upper management adopted a practical approach to embed it then it can be achieved. Just like the old saying goes: if there is a will, there is a way.
Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati writer and fashion designer
Updated: July 14, 2013 04:00 AM