"58% of people said happiness is more important to them than salary"
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Looking to give your team’s morale a boost? Our team building activities could be just what you and your employees are looking for.
The last year hasn’t been easy for anyone – at home or at work. Zoom calls and instant messaging have replaced social events and casual chats. It’s been a challenge to maintain relationships with workmates, leaving employees feeling more isolated.
Here at Wildgoose, we wanted to find out what impact the last year has had on friendships with workmates – and the knock-on effect on business morale and productivity. So we asked employees from 1,052 companies about their work friendships, how important they were and how companies can encourage them.
Having conducted the 2017 Friends in the Workplace Survey four years ago, we have a valuable reference point for seeing how new modes of working have changed relationships with workmates.
In our latest survey, we aimed to find out:
- How much do friendships with colleagues still matter?
- How has the last year changed friendships in the workplace?
- Has working from home (WFH) hindered friendships being formed and maintained?
- How can companies address this as hybrid working becomes commonplace?
- 58% of people said happiness is more important to them than salary
- Nearly 57% said that having a good friend at work makes their job more enjoyable
- 46% said face-to-face after-work drinks are their favourite team-building activity
- The majority of people prefer in-person team-building activities to virtual equivalents
What’s changed since 2017? Workplaces are becoming lonelier
In 2021, 40% of employees don’t have friends in the workplace, compared to 37% in 2017, a small but significant rise of 3%. Some 15% now say they would like a work friend, ideally, compared to 10% in 2017. This suggests that people are feeling a lack of work friends more keenly as the pandemic keeps people apart.
In the last year alone, the study indicates that 5% of employees have started at a new company or new department and have struggled to make friends.
Young adults are suffering most from workplace loneliness
The data highlights a growing epidemic of loneliness among young adults. While recent studies have found similar results, our data establishes the link between the working environment, workplace relationships and loneliness in young employees (under-25s).
Nearly one in every four (23%) people under the age of 25 said they’re lonely in their workplace, and wanted friendship with colleagues. That’s an increase of 130% since the last survey in 2017 – and double the number (one in eight) seen in employees aged 35-64.
- 44% don’t have friends in the workplace
- 7% have started a new role in the last year, without making any work friends
- Just 15% stated they enjoy support from friends for workplace or personal issues, nearly 50% less than those aged 25-34
What can be done to tackle loneliness in the workplace for the under-25s? 41% of the age group wanted their employer to provide dedicated breakout areas in the office, where they can eat and spend time with colleagues. While remote working is probably here to stay, it’s clear that Gen Z still want opportunities to make friends in an office setting.
What impact does company size have?
Employees at enterprise-sized companies (1,000+ employees) are most likely to see benefits from having friends in the workplace, with almost two-thirds (63%) saying it makes work more enjoyable. Other benefits include support for employees, greater productivity and employee retention.
- 63% say friends make work more enjoyable
- 24% say having friends at work makes them as or more productive
- A quarter (25%) look to workplace friends for support with workplace or personal issues
- One in six (15%) are less likely to leave the company if they have workplace friendships
The results of the survey reveal that large companies and small businesses need to focus more on encouraging colleague friendships. In both cases, only around half of their employees have friends at work, while almost one in five would welcome more work friendships.
- 44% of employees at small businesses don’t have friends in the workplace
- 17% would like more friendships with colleagues
- 5% have started at an small business in the last year and have struggled to make friends
- 45% don’t have friends in the workplace
- 16% would like more friendships with colleagues
- 8% have started at a large company in the last year and have struggled to make friends. This suggest some large companies are failing to integrate employees while working remotely
Has working from home impacted those starting new jobs integrating with colleagues?
Our study indicates that friendships play a significant role in integrating new and young employees into a company. Almost one in three of those at executive level have needed support from colleagues, and almost one in five are more unlikely to leave a company where they have friends.
- 29% have relied upon colleagues for support with workplace or personal issues
- 19% executive-level employees say they’re more likely to stay at a company when they have colleague friendships
Yet this issue is not confined to younger employees, with the phrase ‘It’s lonely at the top’ ringing true, according to the survey figures. Directors have found it hardest to build friendships over the last year: 1 in 10 (10%) directors who started a new role over the last year have found it hard to make workplace friendships.
How do friends in the workplace impact our ability to work?
Our research shows that having friends at work provides a whole range of benefits, including job satisfaction, higher productivity and emotional support with personal or workplace issues.
When asked how having a ‘work best friend’ impacts their job, nearly three in five (57%) people surveyed say it makes it more enjoyable. Interestingly, this figure was the same in the 2017 survey.
Some 22% of employees in this year’s survey believe they’re equally or more productive when working alongside friends, with 21% saying it makes them more creative. 21% also say work best friends have supported them through personal or workplace issues.
Employers will be interested to hear that 12% of people state they’re less likely to leave a company if they have a good friend there.
The benefits are plain to see, but are companies doing enough to encourage bonding between employees, particularly as WFH and hybrid working become the norm? More and more organisations may find that they need to help employees connect through virtual escape rooms.
What can companies do to improve employee relationships?
After a year of social isolation for many, and with many people looking to form friendships at work, team-building efforts are more important than ever. We asked employees what their preferred method of team bonding would be.
- A monthly after-work drink is the most popular way of improving relationships within a company: 46% of employees say that this is their preferred method of bonding. (This is down slightly compared to 2017, when 48% of employees chose drinks to improve colleague relationships)
- Almost a third (30%) of those surveyed say they want a space to eat, socialise, and spend time with colleagues at work. (In 2017, this figure stood at 23% of employees, suggesting many people miss office environments)
- Nearly a fifth (21%) of people say they’d favour a team-building weekend away
During the last year, many people have experienced virtual bonding activities for the first time – and the variety of these activities has greatly expanded. However, the majority of people we surveyed still prefer in-person team building activities, perhaps because they feel closer to workmates seeing them face to face. Taking part in activities like the Urban Explorer also gives employees the chance to get outdoors – something we’ve all come to appreciate more following lockdowns.
Comparing in-person activities and their virtual equivalents, the in-person option was more popular in each case.
- After-work drinks were 36% less popular when moved online, with less than a quarter of people preferring virtual drinks to face-to-face drinks
- The was a 15% increase in people favouring team-building weekends over a virtual team-building activity
- Playing sport in person was preferable to online gaming with workmates - 9% more chose a monthly sporting activity.
Yet as people return to offices and hybrid working becomes more common, companies will have to adapt their approaches to team building, not least because people are now aware of more options. And, as always, companies that listen to their employees will benefit from happier employees.
What’s the future for virtual social activities?
While it’s difficult to replace face-to-face contact when it comes to team building, hybrid working will continue, especially as people now expect it and companies realise it allows them to hire from a wider geographical area. So virtual social activities will still have some part to play. With this in mind, which employees will find it easier to adapt to the future of workplace team building?
- Employees at enterprise-size companies are most likely to use virtual team building to build colleague relationships. Perhaps these people are more used to fostering relationships outside of the office and had already tried some virtual activities before the pandemic
- Employees between the ages of 35-54 are most likely to prefer virtual team-building activities, maybe due to family considerations
Next steps: how can companies encourage friendships in the workplace?
Companies are still playing catch-up and adapting to home working, and now they face a new reality as hybrid working becomes more common. What’s important to remember throughout the next months and years is that humans are, by nature, social creatures. Interaction with colleagues is central to employees’ happiness and casual communication (not just work meetings) is a pivotal part of this.
As hybrid working asserts itself, companies need to continue reflecting their culture through remote working practice, but they should not underestimate the importance of team-building exercises. As well as helping to build new relationships between colleagues, they can also reaffirm existing friendships.
At Wildgoose, we offer in-person, hybrid and remote events:
Another vital cog in companies’ new practices should be a digital induction process. Even as hybrid working really takes off, many people will still start a new role before meeting new colleagues in person. Digital inductions can introduce both people and company culture to new starters, ensuring people feel a part of the company from day one.