September 01, 2011
Making Friends at Work: The Key to Career Success?
You may think that workplace socializing is a waste of time -- you're too busy with work for water-cooler chit-chat (and you're too busy with your life for after-work drinks with the team). But a new study by Harvard researcher Shawn Achor, the author of "The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work," says that employees who are most unwilling to develop workplace friendships are the least likely to get promoted.
He divided employees into quartiles on the basis of their willingness to initiate work relationships -- such as inviting coworkers out for drinks -- and the results may surprise you:
> Of the bottom quartile (those least willing to initiate work friendships) only 5% were extremely engaged in their work.
> Only 7% had been promoted in the past year, while approximately 40% of employees in the other quartiles received promotions.
So having friends at work pays off -- but what if you're shy, or what if you don't much like the people you work with? We asked Achor for some tips on workplace relationships, and here's what he had to say:
Monster: If you're working with people you don't have much in common with (or don't like much), do you think there's value in "faking it" -- that is, initializing social relationships simply for the sake of your career?
Achor: If you're faking it, then people aren't going to like you anyway. But if you make a conscious effort to learn what does connect you with your coworkers, then the payoff is huge. My new research in the Harvard Business Review reveals that if you provide social support at work to your coworkers, it correlates with a 40% increased likelihood of a promotion.
In addition, when you make an effort, your brain actually starts liking the people around you more. And my research shows that people who initialize relationships find significantly more engagement at work.
(For more advice, read "5 Tips for Making Office Friendships Work.")
Monster: You describe the positive effects of going out for drinks with your coworkers. What are some ideas for building relationships inside office hours?
Achor: On the way into work, pick up bagels for everyone. Usually only the boss or manager does this (if anyone does), so very quickly people perceive you as someone who is willing to sacrifice to connect the team. At UBS, one of the managers I worked with did this with his team, and he said that despite being a professional investor, it was one of the best investments he ever made because of the long-term effects on performance.
In addition, we feel more connected to people who recognize our worth. Find something that a person is doing at work and praise them for it. You don't have to be the manager to give praise, and the resulting effect is that others perceive you and your work more favorably as well. For this to work, the praise must be authentic and specific -- our brains are wired to detect deception. But our brains are also linked with mirror neurons, so if you smile more at work, so will your coworkers.
Monster: Any special tips for people who are shy?
Achor: At Adobe, I suggested that some of their introverted employees make a game out of raising social engagement. With each person you meet, try to learn one piece of new information: what they're working on, kids' names, what they're doing this weekend, what movie they saw last. By creating a goal out of the conversation, it makes your brain focus less on forcing being extroverted. In addition, we feel greater social support when we are known and when we know other people, so by the end of just a week, it will be even easier for you to strike up relationships and conversations with coworkers.
(For more advice, read "Networking Tips for Shy People.")
Monster: What are some practical things a busy person can do (daily or weekly) to improve his or her outlook and attitude, to start reaping some of the benefits of positive thinking?
The research in "The Happiness Advantage" proves that happiness is a work ethic. Not only do we work better when our brains are positive, but we must work at being happy, just like we exercise our bodies to get fit. Pick one new habit such as writing down three new things you are grateful for into a journal, or meditate for two minutes watching your breath go in and out, or write one positive two-minute email each morning to a friend before checking your inbox. All those habits take less than two minutes a day at work.
If you keep it going consistently for 21 days in a row, you will create a life habit, and our research has shown that will significantly improve optimism scores and business outcomes even 6 months later!
How do you develop friendships at work? How do you maintain a positive attitude? Share your thoughts in the Comments section.