What Is the Role of Healthy Peer Relationships at Work?
In one of my previous articles, I have mentioned the concept of a work-family. As the name suggests, an employee’s work-family are his coworkers whom he shares more than half of his day with. Therefore, in order to have a satisfying work experience, the importance of positive peer relationships is paramount.
Peer relationships are relations with individuals working on the same level of the organisational hierarchy with no formal authority over each other.
Paychecks are not enough anymore. Millennials and the new workforce who are joining organisations are seeking things that make work meaningful. Their work has to serve a purpose and be satisfying.
The Importance of Having Friends at Work
Workplace loneliness is a rising epidemic. Work is becoming more tiring, people are grinding in longer hours but there’s no one at work they can turn to for support when it gets too much.
In the UK alone, approximately 9 million (which is more than the population of London) people feel lonely. In countries like Japan which are infamous for their long working hours, almost 30,000 people die of loneliness every year.
To drive my point home, I’ll let you in on another alarming stat.
Loneliness has the same effect as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
The lack of relationships and connections is affecting our society, our business and our people. Loneliness occurs due to poor social and emotional relationships and a lack of sense of belonging.
Here are a few points that portray the role of peer groups at work-
Improves Job Satisfaction
Working solo versus working with a group of like-minded people on a project makes a huge difference. When people have friends at work who support and celebrate their achievements, they feel a greater sense of satisfaction towards their own work and love their job.
People who have friends at work are 27 percent more likely to report that the mission of their company makes them feel their job is important.
As a result, they work harder and motivate those around them to do the same. A peer culture that supports, challenges, motivates and helps each other to thrive will surely improve the company’s entire work culture.
Makes Employees Loyal
56% of workers felt an increased sense of loyalty to a company with an empathetic culture.
Employees don’t leave their jobs, they leave their managers. Similarly, employees aren’t loyal to the business. They are loyal to the people involved in the business.
We don’t outright say it or think about it, but businesses run a lot on emotions too. Because at the end of the day, a business is run by its people. People who have emotions and sentiments.
This is why empathy becomes so important in building and boosting peer relationships. As per its definition, empathy is the ability to share and understand others’ emotions.
So when co-workers take up the time and effort to open up to each other, bonds form. They get comfortable with each other, start trusting their peers and when required, have each other’s backs. Over a period of time, this results in loyalty and commitment.
Builds A Support System
Outside the workplace, everyone has a group of people they go to for emotional support. In the workplace too, if cultivated properly, co-workers can have real friends or people they can go to for support and advice.
Sixty-one percent of employees say support from colleagues has helped them get through a hard time.
Peer relationships also result in higher emotional engagement and improved social behavior. Therefore, peers who celebrate each others’ wins as well as support when things get rough are key players in building an inclusive work environment.
Happy employees are more productive. When employees share harmonious relationships, they are more likely to share and bounce off ideas across each other. They suggest each other tips on how they can improve, help when someone is stuck in an area and try to build on each other’s strengths.
When people work as a team, they work collectively towards achieving their goals. They communicate often and are clear on whose role entails what. They brainstorm ideas together, find problems together and try to arrive at solutions together. Important aspects like decision-making and problem-solving become quicker and more efficient. As a result, more work gets done in less time resulting in improved performance and higher productivity.
Similarly, a hostile working environment where an individual or a group of individuals’ behaviour creates unpleasant situations will affect employees’ productivity.
An environment where people don’t communicate, share partial information will definitely give rise to miscommunication and misunderstandings. Biased behavior on the part of managers will give rise to animosity among peers and put a strain on peer relationships.
Gallup says that people who have friends at work are more satisfied than others. In fact, those who have a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their work.
In an employee engagement report conducted by TinyPulse, employees say the number one contributor to their satisfaction are colleagues.
Peers and positive peer relationships play a major role in an employees’ investment and engagement in an organisation.
We are all stuck in a 9-5 cycle of churning in our knowledge, skills, time and energy. But with the presence of other like-minded people, you can feel motivated to put in your hard work.
How to Build Peer Relationships In the Workplace
Peer to peer recognition is the most effective way to build relationships among coworkers in the workplace.
Employees complain about feeling undervalued and unappreciated as one of the main reason for leaving their jobs. So, when you build a system where appreciation is not just from top-down but also among peers, the chances of turnover reduces.
When employees support and celebrate each other, it automatically boosts the group’s confidence and increases motivation among everyone. Team members feel recognised for the time, effort and skills they are putting in to achieve their targets.
Practising gratitude will enable managers and coworkers to understand every individuals’ strengths and best qualities. It also makes employees feel that they are valued at their work and a sense of belonging to their work culture.
If you have a traditional and hierarchy-heavy work culture, this point holds more importance for you. Social events like team lunches, volunteering for social work are some outing ideas that managers can initiate to strengthen relationships among employees.
Employees are more likely to be comfortable and share with their peers outside the workplace. Your employees can showcase their hidden talents, allow people to work in teams, share their common interests.
Team Building Activities
I have mentioned this point separately from social events because team building activities have a completely different approach from team lunches and picnics.
Conduct team-building activities to enable employees to acquire new skills and hone their existing skill-set. They can take on skills like effective problem-solving, coming up with innovative ideas as a team and making decisions after taking into account everyone’s opinions. Other skills that can be learned are time management, clear and precise communication, leadership and more.
While it is important to deepen peer relationships, but too much of it can hamper their productivity and performance.
Therefore, employees need to know how to manage their boundaries. It doesn’t mean that people should stop interacting with other employees. Maintaining boundaries simply means being mindful of whom you let into your physical and psychological space.
Peers differ in their needs, beliefs, values, knowledge and expertise. Getting too deep into anyone’s space can lead to difference in opinions which can cause conflicts among employees.
Soft Skills Training Sessions
To exist in a space harmoniously with people completely different from you, you need to have good social skills. Or what we call soft skills.
Soft skills are personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.
These skills play a key role in our daily operations. Therefore, for employees who spend more than 8 hours together for 5 days a week, having soft skills is very important. Soft skills enhance interactions, boost job performance and also help in advancing one’s career.
Conduct soft skills training sessions so employees can work on their communication skills, learn how to cooperate and collaborate. Train them so they are able to become better problem solvers, make better decisions, learn to manage time and other skills.
A very important point, always listen first and then respond. Half of the miscommunication and conflicts that arise will get resolved if people listen attentively.
When people talk and actually listen to each other, they can find out a lot about each other as well. They can understand each other’s perspectives, improvise on ideas and more.
Avoid gossiping at all costs. Such behaviour gives rise to interpersonal conflicts and office politics.
If employees are facing issues with someone, ask them to talk directly with the person involved in the scenario instead of bad-mouthing him/her to others.
Gossiping with other employees will only put a strain on your relationship with the person involved. It will damage the trust that you have built and hinder future collaborations.
Ever since early childhood, we have had the need and desire to connect and bond with others. It’s not any difference in the workplace. Your employees spend so much time together. It’s only natural that they would want to make connections and bonds during this time.
An effective way to help employees achieve fulfilment is by increasing peer interactions in the workplace.