Home or Office, You Need A Bestie at Work

work bestie

We spend approximately a third of our lives at work. That’s about 90,000 hours. It’s countless lunches and coffee breaks. And -- increasingly – it's where we meet and make lasting friendships, that carry on even if roles or jobs change.

Interesting fact: I met my partner of almost 20 years through work connections. I’m super-grateful that our paths crossed.

So what’s this got to do with employee well-being?

  • A recent article reported that 70% of employees say that having friends at work is crucial to a happy working life
  • 58% of men would refuse a higher-paying job if it meant not getting along with their co-workers
  • 74% of women said the same

This really shouldn’t be surprising – if you’re spending a third of your time at work, wouldn’t it make sense that you’re surrounded by people you like?

My current work team of four (plus me) has me laughing out loud multiple times a day. In the space of the seven months since I started at YMCA WorkWell, they rank near the very top of my list of people who I want to share the important (and not-so-important) things in my life with. They are fun to work with, care deeply about the work we’re doing collectively, and authentically care about each other as people. They are a key reason that I want to “go” to work each day.

It’s little wonder that our work relationships are vitally important and that the research overwhelmingly supports the significance of connection and friendships in the workplace. We are social creatures and we have a deep need for belonging that doesn’t leave us when we walk through the office door. Future of work expert and author Dan Schawbel writes: “As the average workweek continues to expand, between the demands of the new economy and our always-on culture, we can no longer be fulfilled without befriending our colleagues.”

According to Gallup, employees who report having a “best friend” at work are seven times more engaged, 50 per cent more satisfied, and more productive, too. Beyond engagement and productivity, our social relationships are important for our well-being: “When we get at least six hours of daily social time, it increases our well-being and minimizes stress and worry.” It seems having a bestie at work bodes well for employees and employers alike!

The Year of the Loneliness Epidemic

In many ways, those connections have been tested during the pandemic. We all know – and most even experienced – the story: Around the world, many people suddenly found themselves remote workers, and as the pandemic wore on, so too did social isolation and loneliness.

Our recent special issue report, The Loneliness Epidemic, found that 72 per cent of employees have felt lonelier than normal during the pandemic, and 75 per cent of employees believe that feelings of social isolation have had a negative impact on their well-being. And this isn’t just a work-from-home problem; there was no significant difference in reported loneliness between employees who worked from home and those who remained in the workplace.

To top it all off, those who reported feeling lonelier were four times more likely to have experienced significant mental health challenges. Forty-four per cent of the thousands of employees surveyed across our partner organizations identified a need for more team connection opportunities to feel healthier at work.


Tips for Connecting Now and Post-Pandemic

So, what does this mean for employers?

1. Prioritize Connection

Whether you are planning a return to the workplace, working fully remote, or adopting a hybrid model, your number one priority should be on connection. One in ten employees report having no friends at work and half have five or fewer, according to Schawbel. Since those friendships are protective against stress, fostering connection can help with burnout for employees and leaders, writes Jennifer Moss, author of the newly released The Burnout Epidemic.

I know that, depending on where you live, public health guidance may make in-person team connections more challenging, and you may feel like planning something is just a waste of time. My advice is to do the planning anyway (perhaps without a specific date in mind) and share the plan with your staff. We all need a little something to look forward to.


2. Get Creative

Let creativity reign in terms of HOW you connect people. Leave “space” in each meeting for people to just chat with each other. At YMCA WorkWell, we have a team meeting every Monday and we always spend at least ten minutes in non-work banter. As someone who started a new job during the pandemic, it has been a great way to get to know my new colleagues and understand our culture.

Beyond work meetings, it’s important for people to have places where they can connect about non-work activities – the proverbial water cooler. Whether it’s an actual water cooler or a series of channels on your Teams or Slack platform, it’s a great way to bring people with like interests together from across the organization. Moss writes, “Don’t worry about people engaging on these channels during work hours; supporting its usage means you trust that your people can handle their workload.”

Keep in mind that even when it’s safe to gather in person, some people are going to be more ready for that than others. Plan to be inclusive with some fun activities IRL (in real life) and virtual. I like this list of virtual team-building activities. Some great examples include the virtual escape room, the house tour, book club, or supper club where groups of employees cook the same recipe in their own homes and then share a meal. Our Executive Director’s golf buddies turned into virtual Settlers of Catan buddies during the pandemic. But make sure you keep this stuff optional; some people don’t like “organized fun.” Try a few things with a diverse audience in mind and see what people gravitate towards.


3. Get Real!

Finally, focus on authentic connection. Use these opportunities to check in with people, and don’t take “I’m fine” as an answer. It’s an opportunity to share in the successes and struggles, and reinforce the message about self-care. People need to feel seen to feel connected and valued.

Creating a culture of camaraderie in your workplace can serve as a key competitive advantage for recruitment and retention, and boost engagement, productivity and innovation. It creates a common sense of purpose and an attitude of “we’re in it together”. It protects against stress and burnout. And you’ll all have more fun every day. Doesn’t that sound like a place you’d like to work? Sign me up!

Posted by

Kate Toth

Dr. Kate Toth, CHRL is YMCA WorkWell’s Director of Learning and Development. She loves to blog almost as much as she loves to develop and deliver training to help organizations enhance their culture and foster employee well-being. Her passion is to inspire others to think deeply and learn continuously. Kate has a PhD in Health Psychology and a MS in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. With a weakness for red wine and chocolate, Kate’s active lifestyle is a non-negotiable in her quest for balance.

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