Velas Coaching

Friendship as a Driver of Employee Engagement

In a recent blog post on HBR, Stop Using Employee Friendships to Measure Engagement, Rodd Wagner suggests that companies are using friendship as a way to measure employee engagement. A single question can hardly be considered the best method to measure a theme, e.g. employee engagement. Thus the question “Do you have a best friend at work?” by itself does not measure employee engagement.

According to the Conference Board, Employee Engagement happens when workers feel mentally and emotionally connected to their jobs and they are willing to apply discretionary effort to help their company succeed. In other words, an employee is engaged if they are proud of the company they are working for and is making additional efforts to their job to accomplish the company goals (Affiliation and Effort). The question “Do you have a friend at work?” measures neither affiliation nor effort so one cannot use such a question to measure employee engagement according to the Conference Board. In a correlation analysis, however, that question can be used to see how having friends at work might affect effort and affiliation.

A recent survey conducted by conducted by Oracle across a number of large European businesses found HR was the least likely factor to have a positive impact (unsurprisingly) on Employee Engagement. What is surprising about this survey, is that they cite friendships as the biggest driver of engagement followed by their direct manager. Other studies I have seen show the direct manager as the biggest driver of engagement.

However, it is clear is that friendship is not the only driver of engagement, nor will measuring friendship determine employee engagement. In other surveys, friendship falls well below that of collaboration, teamwork, and coworker abilities for maintaining employee commitment and intensity. As Rodd Wagner suggests, workers are trying to say, “Give me talented colleagues and some key collaborators, and give us conditions that foster teamwork?: In the process, they might become friends, but that is not necessarily something that will lead to a friendship.

The key to understanding this finding, I believe is making a clear distinction between friendship in the workplace and a strong working relationship, which may or may not lead to a friendship. In the workplace, an engaged employee will place more value on strong teammates and collaborators, who will help them get things done.

So what makes people become great collaborators, great teammates and potentially develop friendships? Ori and Rod Brafman in their book “Click”, list 5 “click accelerators” that build rapport and help people work better together and form lasting relationships that could definitely foster Employee Engagement. Among these accelerators are:

  1. Vulnerability,
  2. Proximity,
  3. Resonance,
  4. Similarity and
  5. Safety

Matt Straz wrote recently in his blog, 4 Ways Companies Foster Productive Co-Worker Friendships, advising managers looking to improve retention and company loyalty to look at employee friendships around the office and what’s helping co-workers to connect. Without positive employee relationships as a company foundation, other engagement and retention initiatives might not take hold.

So instead of trying to measure employee engagement by the level of friendship in the workplace, companies should add components that foster collaboration and teamwork. These components may or may not lead to friendships, but will definitely increase Employee Engageme


Luis Velasquez MBA, PhD

Luis is a leadership coach, employee engagement expert, and management trainer. Formerly a University professor and research scientist, Luis holds a dual Ph.D. from Michigan State University; and an MBA in Organizational Leadership.

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