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Friendships at work: the vital performance catalyst

The image of a zombie-like horde of disinterested employees is more than just unnerving for bosses

If there’s one term that sums up current internal corporate jargon, it’s ‘engagement’. And yet, with 7 out of 10 workers saying that they don’t love their jobs, the buzz word might be more appropriately ‘dis-engagement.’

The image of a zombie-like horde of disinterested employees is more than just unnerving from a mental imagery perspective. It also translates into a range of financial issues for employers. There is a great deal of research into the field but the most common statistic comes from Gallup, which has found that ‘more engaged staff can result in 147 per cent higher EPS (earnings per share)’.

Firms are evidently keen and ready to embrace positive change. However, whilst leadership teams may talk about the goal of transforming disengaged staff into energised, passionate and emotionally engaged super-workers, the reality is that the average employee is already spent.

Adjacent research highlights this reality. Around 70 per cent of staff are currently working unpaid overtime in the evening and at weekends, despite actively wanting to dial back their hours. Just under this percentage of women say that they would value more free time rather than more money, and 80 per cent of male employees desire fewer working hours than at present (at a weekly average of 50 hours).

Although most workers are due breaks, they tend not to take them. The OECD found that the USA ranked last in a survey of 23 countries measuring work-life balance. Oxford Economics has calculated that overworked Americans are wasting more than $50 billion worth of holiday time annually. And the Brits are catching up fast.

Many employees say that they are overwhelmed, with 66 per cent of survey respondents saying that that the problem needs to be addressed urgently.

Clearly, action is required – but the right kind of action. Discretionary effort simply isn’t possible for roles from which we have emotionally detached. If engaged staff are defined by demonstrating excellent commitment to their roles, it suggests that the average employee has already long since done this.

Staff simply aren’t engaged in the sense in which organisations understand it.

In Arianna Huffington’s classic bestseller, Thrive, she calls on readers to slow down, prioritise their lives and stop pouring away their energy on career climbing. Her plea to redefine how we measure success comes after she passed out and woke up in a pool of blood after aggressively pursuing material and career success.

Her message is resonating powerfully with stressed out individuals everywhere. The third metric she speaks of is a life filled with well-being, adhering to the fundamental truth, that our souls and lives cannot be left at home if we are to be really whole and present at work.

In translation, companies need to wake up. Engagement tracking isn’t possible and we can’t sustainably give ‘more’ at work. Workplaces need to support emotional well-being, not deplete it. We should thrive at work, but what does this look like?

The most important factor, it turns out, is our relationships. Good relationships are the most powerful indicator of a life well-lived. And if an individual has a good friend that they see on most days, this increases their happiness to an equivalent salary of $100k annually. A break in a social tie is, conversely, akin to seeing a $90k salary decrease.

Connection matters, and this kind of connection isn’t present in our workplaces. However, research shows that it can be created.

Scientists have found that warm social connections can be forced in less than an hour. This has implications for team-based working, work life structures, new starters and office design.

Employers that can allow – and indeed facilitate – friendships to form will find that their working communities and cultures are thriving and alive. And their staff can benefit from that equivalent $100k rise. No doubt EPS performance will follow.

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