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Butler on Benefits

Friends Will Benefit Your Company

Perhaps you should implement and promote programs that are more social in nature. Your employees — and your company — can get by with a little help from their friends.

May 5, 2014
Related Topics: Employee Engagement, Benefits Design and Communication, The Latest, Benefits, Talent Management

As HR/benefits professionals, anything that even remotely addresses your employees’ personal lives is usually met with a “don’t touch it with a 10-foot pole” response. I get that.

Compliance restraints, exposure to litigation and just a general desire to separate church and state, so to speak, all are sound reasons to be hands-off when it comes to things like personal relationships.Retiree health care chart 1 November 2013

However, there also are good reasons why encouraging workplace friendships can be beneficial to your company — with data to back them up. Here are five for you to consider:

1. You may get away with fewer benefit enhancements. According to a poll from OfficeTeam, employees value friends at work (24 percent) over a robust benefits program (20 percent). Now, that’s a way to do more with less that benefits everyone!

2. You’ll have natural partners/champions for your benefit programs aimed to help employees at risk. The Eliza Vulnerability Index, designed by the Eliza Corp. and the Altarum Institute’s Center for Consumer Choice in Health Care to quantify the impact of life conditions on health and productivity, finds that there are five key points of stress — known as the “unmentionables” — that disrupt employees’ lives and make them more likely to be “vulnerable” (less productive and healthy) at work: Caregiving, financial problems, relationship issues/divorce, job stress and sex.

Gallup  finds that 50 percent of employees with a best friend at work feel a strong connection to their company.

You want nothing to do with those (especially that last one), am I right? But I’d guess that what you do want is for employees who are having problems in those areas to reach out to your benefit programs: your EAP, your financial planning benefit, your backup care provider or referral service.

The Eliza Corp. finds that employees want your support: about 80 percent say that they would accept help from their employer to improve an “unmentionable” life situation. With a robust communication strategy in place, employees’ workplace friends are the perfect carriers for messages about those programs — a study by The Conference Board finds that 32 percent of employees discuss personal matters with workplace friends. That can help drive more targeted and appropriate benefit utilization than any direct mail or webinar ever could.

3. Employee retention gets easier. A study from Gallup on workplace management finds people who can say “I have a best friend at work” have a positive correlation to retention rates, depending on company culture and/or team environment. In a negative culture, best friends may leave together, as employees with many friends have 8 percent more turnover than those with few friends. In a moderately to highly engaged atmosphere, friends stay together; turnover is 18 percent less per year for employees with many friends compared with those with few friends.

Gallup also finds that 50 percent of employees with a best friend at work feel a strong connection to their company compared with just 10 percent of those without a best friend at work.

4. Recruiting may get easier, too. The latest results from the American Psychological Association’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award study reveal that three-quarters (74 percent) of employees at healthy workplaces say they would recommend their company to others as a good place to work compared with just 57 percent among the U.S. workforce overall.

If you can get your employees — the happier, more productive, healthier, friendly ones — to help do the heavy lifting of your recruiting effort, you’re free to do other things and potentially have a better talent pool as well.

5. Productivity goes up. Research from the London School of Economics and Political Science shows employees are up to 10 percent more productive when they can work alongside a friend. Plus, Gallup finds that 35 percent of employees who have a “best friend” at work say they are committed to work quality, and 21 percent believe they have the opportunity to do their best work every day. As such, Gallup identifies friendships as one of 12 traits of highly productive work groups.

So, perhaps you should implement and promote programs that are more social in nature that might spark workplace friendships. Your employees — and your company — can get by with a little help from their friends.

Kelley M. Butler is the editorial director at Benz Communications, an HR/benefits communication strategy firm. Prior to joining Benz, Butler spent 11 years at Employee Benefit News, including seven as editor-in-chief. To comment, email Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.

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