THE BLOG

The New Way to Keep Employees Happy: Find Them Friends

30/07/2014 14:20 BST | Updated 28/09/2014 10:59 BST

Recently I wrote a piece about how displays of emotion in the workplace may not necessarily prove detrimental to your career. A raft of recent academic literature suggests those who are more emotionally intelligent are said to possess greater creativity, be rated as more trustworthy and could even manage stress levels better than their more reserved counterparts. And I'm not surprised that a new survey from Linkedin has gone one better - insisting that we not only need displays of warmth and support in an office environment - but fully-fledged friendships.

In a survey of 11,500 professionals across 14 countries, approximately 46% of those aged 16 to 65, including 60% of those aged 16-24 years old said having friends at work made them feel happier, with 50% reporting more motivation. While bosses might seize on the fact that rises in productivity levels weren't exactly guaranteed (just 39% of 16-24 year olds said the presence of good pals made them work harder), it might be time that businesses started to forego the traditional view of personal relationships at work - the UK lagged behind countries such as India and Indonesia in the strength of camaraderie felt with colleagues, and boasted fewer professional connections on average than in Europe.

The reason that the findings are important, especially amongst a younger age group, is because we are entering an age where computer-based communication already largely accounts for our interactions during the working day. Suggestions that this change may have a negative impact should be examined carefully and we should act now to protect the positive aspects of relationships at work for our future recruits. In addition, many of us are working longer hours than ever, necessitating a change in the way we view the distinction between work and leisure time, more broadly.

According to a study in the Journal of Business Psychology, cited in this post on Forbes a good relationship with co-workers is one of the most popular reasons for staff to stay working for their existing company - above reasons such as job satisfaction, flexible working arrangements and salary, at a time when pay freezes and opportunities for growth are only starting to be restored to their pre-recession levels.

Of course, the presence of friendships in the workplace is not necessarily wholly good or bad - the debate also needs to take into account how to promote fulfilling friendships. The Linkedin survey pointed out that while the younger generation are keen to have good friends at work, they would readily forego these loyalties in favour of a promotion. When asked, 68 per cent of 16-24 year olds said they would ditch their work friends if they had to, in order to gain advancement.

How do we prevent these much-needed friendships becoming breeding grounds for distrust and loyalty? The key may be in encouraging each individual to establish personal identity. Research suggests many of us foster friendships as a way of reinforcing the sense of self that our careers can give us. We need environments that allow us to take control of specific tasks and show our own strengths, while focusing more on one-to-one mentoring. Glass of wine optional.