Last reviewed: 10 January 2022
It doesn’t take a lot to encourage employees and colleagues to get to know each other, but it can have a huge impact on their mental wellbeing. People who have at least one friend at work have lower levels of stress and anxiety at work and are more productive. You could improve productivity and mental wellbeing overall in your team by fostering a sociable workplace.
The benefits of a friendly workplace culture
Better mental health
Rates of mental ill-health tend to be lower when employees feel that someone cares for them at work. Workplace satisfaction goes up 50 per cent when employees have a friend at work. Interpersonal relationships are the cause of over a quarter of mental ill-health cases, so improving people’s interpersonal relationships at work can go a long way to improving colleagues’ mental health and wellbeing.
Managers need to talk to their teams about all aspects of their life, not just their mental health. If a colleague is struggling with mental ill-health, you won’t help them by only talking to them about their mental health. Encouraging colleagues to socialise allows people to talk more comfortably with their colleagues and feel less stressed or anxious.
Better mental health can improve all aspects of business, including:
- increased productivity
- higher rates of staff retention
- lower sickness absence
- greater commitment to your team’s goals.
Increasing the number of employees who feel that someone at work cares about them as a person can cause sickness absences to fall by almost half.
What people managers can do
Create a work environment that allows and encourages co-workers to socialise and make friends. In larger organisations this will most likely be on a team-by-team basis. This can help colleagues feel that people at their workplace care about them and their wellbeing and reduce levels of stress and anxiety at work.
There are a few simple things you could do to reduce stress and anxiety and promote a culture of wellbeing in your team:
- Provide time and a budget for social activities. There may be barriers that prevent people from socialising after work or at weekends. Setting aside even a little time in a workday – regularly or once in a while – can allow more people to attend, and let people know that this is something you’re prepared to invest time into.
- Allow employees to decide how they want to use that time; a plan imposed from above will likely be less successful than one designed with everyone’s input. Even if they decide to spend the time the way you would have suggested anyway, it’s important that colleagues feel invested in the activity, and that it was their
- Make good use of existing social time – e.g. creating social spaces for people to eat their lunches. You don’t have to go as far as explicitly encouraging people to eat together, but if there’s a nice space that’s laid out in a way that makes it easy to chat while you eat people may well begin to do so, if they don’t already.
- Allow people to opt out. Some people will prefer not to socialise with their colleagues, and they shouldn’t feel pressured to participate if they don’t want to. This could have a negative impact on their wellbeing, undermining its purpose. A sense that this is “enforced fun” might also hamper your efforts, even among those who are happy to socialise with their colleagues.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, and what works in one workplace or one team might not in another. There might be a process of trial and error before your team finds its solution. The important thing is that employees feel that someone at work – from their colleagues to their supervisor – cares about their wellbeing.
If you need ideas to get the ball rolling, here are some initiatives other organisations have found worked for them:
- Regular lunch dates – e.g. “Nachos and Natter” on a Tuesday or “Wednesday Curry and Chat”.
- Book or film group meetings in workspaces after work or at lunch. Team members who work remotely can then join using workplace facilities like Skype or Teams.
- Lunchtime walk and talk sessions where people taking part try to increase their daily step count. Remote workers can still join in by adding their step counts to a centrally held tally.
- “Grow your own” windowsills where team members all plant seeds or bulbs and watch them grow over time. Pictures of progress can then be shared in a joint WhatsApp or Facebook group.
- Creating a pets’ calendar where people contribute photographs throughout the year for the pet of the month and then selling it to raise money for charity at Christmas.
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