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    Strong companies depend on strong relationships, and fostering those relationships among employees keeps people satisfied, engaged and productive at work. Research shows that having a friend at work does more for employee satisfaction than perks like free lunches or cool office spaces. More than one-third of employees don’t think they interact with their co-workers enough, and 60 percent report that they eat lunch alone at their desks.

    Managers need to encourage their employees to step away from their desks, decompress and make friends. These bonds build trust, which is essential for high quality teams. When co-workers trust each other, they are more willing to open up, take risks and be more creative and innovative.

    Many organizations, however, seem to neglect the trust factor. In one survey, 45 percent of workers said the problem that most affected their performance was a lack of trust in their leadership. But that doesn’t have to be the norm: Business leaders can take steps to create company cultures that value relationship-building, thus increasing trust and loyalty throughout the organization.

    The Importance of Work Friendships

    In all aspects of life, we depend on others. That’s especially true when it comes to success — we often must rely on others to help us do our best work. Organizations with high levels of trust see their colleagues as credible and feel confident in one another’s actions. They support employee growth and encourage idea-sharing. Employees, in return, feel valued.

    Trust and relationship-building is especially important to Millennial employees: A study by LinkedIn revealed that 67 percent are likely to share personal information with co-workers, while only one-third of Baby Boomers do the same. And 46 percent of workers worldwide say their work friends are important to their overall happiness.

    Employees with work friends are often more engaged with their work and more likely to stick around. In a worldwide survey of employees by the O.C. Tanner Institute, 72 percent who said they have a best friend at work reported higher satisfaction than the 54 percent who don’t have a work bestie.

    Not only are employees more satisfied when they have friends at work, but they also perform better. One likely reason is that when you have friends at work, it’s easier to get help and seek advice. Plus, seeing friends is a sure way to put you in a good mood, which can help you be more productive.

    How to Foster Supportive Relationships

    One of an employer’s most important jobs is to create a company culture that values relationships and to implement a strategy that encourages relationship building. Consider these strategies as you build that culture:

    1. Take a genuine interest in those around you.

    Truly being interested in your colleagues’ lives goes beyond simply getting to know them. Ensure that you and your employees have built-in time to talk and find out what’s important to one another. Everyone is busy, sure, but neglecting co-worker relationships can only hurt your business. Take time to build the trust that makes the foundation of a solid relationship.

    When hiring a new direct report, I always set up a one-on-one coffee or lunch to talk about their career dreams, what motivates them and what they are passionate about outside of work. I keep notes on birthdays, children and family, and other things that are important to each employee so I can remember what is significant and meaningful to him or her. I believe one’s personal life will affect one’s professional life, so this information is valuable. Consider keeping these notes in a journal you keep or in a protected folder on your computer or phone.

    2. Recognize and nurture differences.

    Differences make life interesting. Nurturing and leveraging those differences among your employees produces happier, more successful teams. Every person brings individual strengths, talents, knowledge and experience to the table. Discover each of your employees’ strengths, then foster them. The more you understand your team, the more effective and productive your team will become.

    I always look to find teams to complement my strengths. I created my success test to help me understand which trait someone leads with so I can find someone who complements them. It’s important to recognize that good professional traits are interdependent — you need all of them to successfully execute your company’s vision. So instead of seeing my employees as individual players, I view them as a team that works together.

    3. Look for mutually beneficial opportunities.

    Business leaders should always look to improve their companies long-term — not just for themselves, but for the greater good.

    This attitude might not always be reciprocated, but you shouldn’t ever do something just because you want something else in return, as you’ll likely be disappointed. If you’re always working to help others, though, you’ll likely find ways to connect employees — or yourself — to other people for support or advice.

    Social media game developer Zynga knows its young employees are crucial to its future, so it has created a mentorship program for its employees who are recent college graduates. Young Zynga employees spend one week training to become successful employees. Then, for the next six months, each employee gets to experience working with different teams in the company before he decides which area to join, ensuring that new employees are excited and ready to begin their careers with Zynga.

    As an employer, it’s critical to understand that your most valuable assets are your employees. And good relationships among your team members are not a luxury — they’re a necessity. The best company culture is one built on nurturing those connections that make employees feel more satisfied at work, thus increasing productivity,  decreasing turnover, and driving your business toward success.