The Gallup Q12 is a quick, easy measure of employee engagement that has been used by thousands of companies. I have used the Gallop Q12 in a variety of organizations and most employees like the survey  and appreciate the results. Many staff, however, seem to dislike question 10: Do you have a best friend at work? While this seems like a simple way to ask about the level of “social connectedness” in a company, some staff see it as irrelevant and intrusive, and uncomfortable.

Personally, I think that the “best friend” question is one of the most important items on the assessment. Companies with high scores on this question have staff that report that they feel valued, that their supervisor supports them, and that their job is important.  The question also directly affects company performance. Gallup has also found that this question predicts higher customer service ratings, lower staff turnover, reduced accident rates, reduced employee theft, and higher productivity and profitability. It turns out that the best friend question is a really big deal!

Why is this simple question so powerful? I think it speaks to one of the most important characteristics of humans: our deep need for social connectedness. Vivek Murthy, former US Surgeon General, has written an extraordinary book on this topic, Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World. Dr. Murthy points to ample evidence that “We evolved to have brains that are wired to seek connection, to focus our thought on other people, and to define ourselves by the people around us.”

The importance of other people in our lives is more than transactional. It is a central part of our genetic code. We do not do well when we lack sufficient “togetherness.” When we get lonely, we lose focus, energy, and can even become anxious and depressed. It even threatens our physical health. Recent studies find that loneliness increases risk of expensive medical conditions like diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease. Loneliness has the same effect on life span as obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day

In short, if your staff do not have close relationships at work, it hurts them, and it reduces company productivity and profits. It increases company healthcare costs. It reduces energy and life expectancy of your staff. And it decreases staff morale and engagement. If you are not paying attention to social connectedness in your company, now is the right time to start! Here are four suggestions for improving social connectedness in your company.

  • Measure Social Connectedness. Including a measure of social connectedness in your company’s human resources dashboard and making improvement a strategic goal is a good place to start. The Gallup Q12 gives you a simple but coarse measure of connectedness. Most companies will want a more refined measure. I like the Predictive Index Employee Experience Survey. It is an exceptional measure of engagement and a great way to track engagement and connectedness. In addition to helping companies track employee experience, it offers suggestions on how to improve.
  • Budget for Social Connectedness. We live in an era of precise operational measurement. We can track the average time that it takes an employee to answer a call, fill a fast food drive up window order, pick an item from a warehouse, and pluck a chicken. Given our capacity to translate time into money, it is tempting to focus only on higher productivity per minute and see social time as lost profits. Budgeting for more staff social connectedness time, however, is important as well. Informal employee gatherings, opportunities to bond over meals, and small celebrations on birthdays, and big life events build relationships and connectedness and have big payoff to the bottom line.
  • Teach Supervisors to Model and Encourage Social Connectedness: Staff tend to follow the lead of the boss. If you want staff to value social connectedness, supervisors need to take the lead. Slowing down for a personal conversation with a subordinate, showing genuine interest in the lives of colleagues, and sharing a bit about who you are personally promotes social connectedness for your whole team.
  • Include Social Connectedness in Staff Evaluation: We tend to get better performance in areas that we measure.  Annual performance evaluations usually discuss a host of basic items like showing up on time and meeting production standards. These are important but including an item like Demonstrates and develops strong personal relationships with colleagues increases staff accountability for social connectedness and improves it. If we want staff to be more socially connected, we need to value it, measure it, and help staff build plans to improve it.

Strong personal relationships at work make each job more rewarding, engage staff, and produce better results for the company. Some people may not like the survey item, “Do you have a best friend at work”, but it is a critical question.  Smart companies want strong social connectedness and recognize that building friendships at work is a part of great job performance.