The importance of social relationships at work

If you work a typical 40 hours a week in an office, then chances are you spend more time with your work colleagues than your family.

So it would make sense to ensure these relationships are healthy and supportive. Numerous studies say if these relationships are healthy it means workers are happier and more productive and this has a long-term beneficial affect on a company on many levels including its culture.


Positives...and negatives of work relationships

The Society for Human Resource Management’s 2016 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Report, showed that relationships with co-workers were identified “as the top driver of employee engagement, with 77 per cent of participants listing these connections as a priority”.

Gallup's 2017 "State of the American Workplace" report, also found that forming friendships with co-workers increases levels of happiness and makes an employee a more engaged worker.

Another study published in journal, Personnel Psychology, by a group of professors at Rutgers University in the US found that having workers who are friends increased employee performance. It also gave workers access to information through informal networks that they may not otherwise get. The researchers also said it improved morale. 

But having workplace friends comes with costs. The academics said the biggest was distraction, because extended breaks for socialising slowly steals time from being productive, making it more stressful to complete work tasks. It was also suggested it was more exhausting emotionally for workers to maintain friendships at work. 

How can facilities managers encourage social interaction?

Some of the simple ways facilities managers can encourage worker connections is to arrange workstations so that employees can see and speak with each other, which helps foster communication. For instance, recent research by architects Zaha Hadid Architects, found that desks within a certain range of each other - around 25 metres - encouraged collaboration.

Since the open plan office became more popular in the 1960s, cubicle offices are not as popular but some senior staff still have them. Research has shown that offices with high walls tend to have a negative influence on employee's level of happiness in the office, since they increase isolation - so are best avoided.

Socialisation also does not have to be limited to office hours and FMs should encourage interaction between workers outside of office hours.

This could include schemes like volunteer programs and community service to give employees an opportunity to develop relationships outside of the office, and at the same time promote a company's social responsibility values.

While cultivating social interactions in a workplace, a facilities manager should also remember to devise scenarios appealing to different personality types. For instance, a party-style after-work gathering may not appeal to an introverted worker. This kind of worker would be more likely to connect with colleagues perhaps through an activity such an internal book club.

How can disadvantages such as time-wasting be guarded against? 

If staff or a team is socializing too much, a facilities manager could try and arrange a discussion of how to resolve this through a group discussion.

Some of the solutions could be around having structured, company-wide break times or even scheduling one 15-minute break in the morning and another in the afternoon.

By doing this, staff know they are free to visit with each other.

If some team members want more social time, they can also have lunch together offsite or in the office breakroom.

The key is for facilities managers to create a culture of balance where workers are not forced to socialise but there are many authentic opportunities to do so – whether through scheduled breaks, a work club or strategically arranged furniture.


Learn how to facilitate world-class workplace environment. Download the ISS 2020 Vision White Book: The future of work, workforce and workplace here.