There’s a great book about how companies and managers influence the happiness and success of their associates. It’s called First Break all the Rules, and we use it as a foundational part of our Benefitfocus Management Training and Certifications. In the book, the authors discovered a set of key questions that help identify if someone is happy and will stay at their current employer. One of the key questions is, "Do you have a best friend at work?". When I first read that, I wondered how they came up with that as an identifier. Why the use of "best friend" rather than just "friend”?
Don't we all have friends at work? How many of us have a best friend at work? Upon further study, the authors and researchers reveal that what they are trying to get at is the notion of a very close friend. We all have people we know and say hi to, but do you have a close friend to spend your working hours with?
As I thought about this, it began to make more sense. It’s a pattern I’ve seen unfold in my life over the years. I call it “the 7th grade principle”. I remember 7th grade as a set of good days and bad days. It was the first time that I had a rotating class schedule, which meant that I was with different students on different days. What I learned was that when I woke up in the morning, my outlook for the day depended on what students would be in my classes.
It wasn't as much about the classes but about the friends I would spend my day with. I could have a day full of tough classes, but if I had close friends, I would look forward to the day. Of course, on hard test days I did not look forward to it regardless of who was in the class! But, overall, the idea was sound; if I was going to be around a "best friend" or close friends, I was in good shape.
Fast-forward through my career and I see the same pattern. Thankfully, I work with a group of great friends, and I look forward to being with them regardless of what the tasks are for the day. This is one of the reasons we put so much emphasis on our culture and social time at Benefitfocus. We make a big deal about celebrating each other, decorating associates’ desks for birthdays, having meals together, participating in community service together and on and on. We realize that our friendships at work are central to how we see our future and our career at the company.
We also do a lot to facilitate folks connecting with each other. Our office environment is open to allow for conversations to happen naturally and often. We have many events and programs for new associates to meet each other and to meet members of other teams. We set the stage so that each individual can make friends easily.
When I was young, I was shy and had trouble attending the first day of a new school year or going to a birthday party with new kids. People have a hard time believing that about me now, given my role at our company. But, like many others, I had to learn to overcome my initial shyness and force myself to meet new people. Because I know firsthand how hard it is to connect when starting a new job or being assigned to projects with new people, I believe it is the company's responsibility to understand and work around this dynamic. I also believe it is the individual's responsibility to push for those social interactions and, if needed, force themselves to participate (as I did!). Over time, that becomes easier, and the dividends of the relationship are significant.
I’m thankful for the many great friends at Benefitfocus and also the rich friendships I have developed over the years with our customers and partners. So, if you’re a manager, encourage your team to build friendships. If you’re a bit shy, like me, step out of your comfort zone just a bit and attend that lunch or go out with the group after work. You might be surprised at how many other folks are eager to connect and build friendships, too. These friendships will be a huge part of your career and success.