We’re social creatures. There’s no denying that. We depend to a very large extent on that sociability for our own well-being. Isolated and lonely people end up unhappy, stressed and physically less healthy.
Those of us who are socially well integrated on the other hand, are healthier, more emotionally stable and live longer. A natural place for people to look for social integration is their work place.
And it’s not just them who benefit when they do, with those who socialize and make friends not only taking less sick days, but also being more proactive, more loyal and likelier to stick around longer, which means less turnover. In fact, them having friends works better than paying people well for having people stick around.
So what can you do to have people make friends and love their jobs?
Have Social Event
It’s a no brainer. If you like the idea of your employees socializing then have social events. To make certain that it leads to team building don’t necessarily get the whole company involved. Let teams and departments plan their own events.
Also, consider using the actual event planning as a team-building exercise. One great one I witnessed was where the first-year PhD students had to organize an outing for the rest of the department. They were given a budget, told of other successful outings in the past and left to it.
This gave these junior members of the faculty an opportunity to bond with each other over something fun, as well as showing them that the department trusted them to know what to do.
Create Flexible Work Spaces
We only really interact with those people sitting around us, with 40 to 60 percent of our interactions during a day happening with our immediate neighbors, Mr. Waber from Sociometric Solutions told the Wall Street Journal. There is only a five to 10 percent chance that somebody will interact with somebody sitting two rows away, according to his company’s statistics.
Now their solution was to move everybody around every few months, stating that it improved innovation. That might be a little extreme, as some people do not like being pushed outside of their comfort zone that far.
Instead a better idea is to give everybody their own space if they want it, but also create communal work spaces that are clearly marked as such, where teams and groups can meet easily to work on projects. If you don’t know how to design such spaces, just take a look at some of the odd designs that Google uses.
Related Article: Smiles Are Free: How a Positive Business Culture Inspires Employees
Create the Opportunity for Interaction
Communal workspaces are not enough, however, as even if people might use them but that does not mean they will interact.
For that reason there need to be icebreakers, such as:
- Discount coupons that will only be valid if you eat with somebody from a different floor or department
- Interesting puzzles or problems openly displayed and changed frequently that can lead to conversations
- Short workshops or classes held throughout the week that are informal and can be attended by anybody
- Leagues, such as at table foosball or ping pong that people can join that will let them meet others
What is important here is that these icebreakers are not mandatory, as that might cause resentment. Instead they should fun and voluntary.
Encourage the use of social media to allow employees to express their thoughts and explore ideas. This should be available company wide as well as at the team level. At the team level the idea is to create a safe space where team members can communicate with a minimum of oversight, so that they feel free to use the space as they see fit.
Perhaps call such spaces "idea incubators" or something of that ilk. Do assure the teams that they’re private and that you trust them to use it responsibly. Only ask team-leaders to report on problems if there would be serious repercussions if such things are not brought to light. This will make the group feel respected and, if they believe you about their privacy, can significantly cut down on the need for group meetings.
Let Your Employees Control Their Environment
If you want people to own something then they’ve got to feel like they’re in control of it. For that reason, don’t demand uniformity. Instead, let people own their spaces by redesigning them to fit their needs. This can mean letting them bring in plants, goldfish and other forms of decorations. If the objects or decorations they are suggesting are larger and affect more people then they need to be decided on as a team (with the team in this case being the people affected).
Alternatively, have the space change frequently (e.g. monthly or bi-monthly), with different groups taking charge at different times. As long as these changes are light-hearted and non-disruptive they will provoke creativity and innovation.
Related Article: Turning the Ship Around: A Guide to Changing Workplace Culture
Two Key Elements
The two key elements here are trust and low-level disruption. By creating change that to at least some extent your employees control and trusting them to use that control wisely, you’re both making them feel respected and creating more reasons for them to work together and interact. And that will inspire team building, group integration, as well as a creating a generally more enjoyable work atmosphere.
Now what is important to remember is not to force your employees. That can have exactly the opposite effect by generating resentment. Instead, try leading by example. If you’ve created a communal workspace that nobody is using then sit down and use it yourself occasionally. Bring in an unusual memorabilia. Join one of the leagues. Take a yoga workshop, particularly if you’re terrible at yoga.
Show that you’re willing to go outside of your comfort zone and hopefully your employees will follow suit.