Does your employee engagement plan include fostering work friendships?

Are your frontline employees feeling exhausted at work? Are you noticing reduced quality in their work output? Then they may be experiencing burnout, a legitimate medical condition related to the workplace. Last year, 58% of US workers identified themselves as experiencing burnout, up from 45% at the beginning of the pandemic. This issue is especially problematic on the frontline, where employees have significantly less control over their day-to-day work experience.

Unfortunately, fixing burnout and improving employee satisfaction isn’t always simple. That’s because burnout is a workplace problem, not a worker problem, and requires changes to the systems and processes that guide how work is done.

Retail employees sorting clothes in store

Open communication helps your employees understand your expectations and feel supported.

Six root causes of burnout

Your business depends on a frontline workforce that’s engaged and empowered to deliver their best work every shift. But how can you recognize when engagement is fading? Without knowing where to look, it’s difficult to stay connected with how your team is feeling and ensure your prevention strategies for burnout are working.

According to Moss, there are six root causes of burnout to look out for in your workplace: overwhelming workload, conflict in values and effort, absence of fairness, insufficient pay, lack of control and not having community. Yes, it’s true: Community, or having true friends at work, helps prevent burnout. 

The ROI impact of having friends at work

Research shows a clear link between having friends at work and better performance. By just having one good friend, employee retention increases by 50% and you’re already four times less likely to experience burnout. So, imagine what a workplace environment that encourages fostering better relationships across the board could look like:

  • 36% fewer safety incidents
  • 7% more engaged customers
  • 12% higher profit

Having work friends can save the costs of employees needing to be on long-term disability or taking time off for a mental health leave. Plus, when people are chronically stressed or isolated, they’re less creative and innovative. They likely won’t own their work or offer dissenting opinions on the work of their peers, which is essential to healthy and collaborative workplaces. Preventing burnout is not just important for an individual’s mental health, but it’s also critical to the success of an organization.

So, how do you prioritize friendship at work?

You can’t always bring people together and expect friendships to blossom by themselves. Creating this environment happens from the top down. Psychologically safe workplaces–headed by great leadership teams—encourage employees to speak up when necessary, take turns in meetings so everyone has a chance to talk, work together toward shared goals and actively listen to teammates to build empathy.

Bonus: friendship doesn’t have to get in the way of getting work done. This is where trust comes in.

  • Give your frontline people the right resources, clarity and prioritization – If they know they have a set of goals to reach in the next two hours or by the end of the shift, who cares how they get it done? Give them your faith and the freedom to get their work done effectively within the parameters you’ve set. Then make sure managers are available to coach and course correct as needed.  
  • Reframe how you look at conversations between teammates in the flow of work – Giving people the freedom to take mini breaks for friend conversations can be good for business. According to Moss, as long as the conversations aren’t distracting to customers, they can actually help boost productivity in the long run.  
  • Be empathetic – Frontline managers can show frontline employees that they recognize the enormous stress they’ve been under and encourage productive and appropriate work friendships. Empathy is at the root of most successful organizations. Talking openly about what you can and can’t do for the employee can change the dynamic and demonstrate that you really do have their best interests at heart. 

It’s never too soon to begin laying the foundation for an employee engagement plan that includes fostering work friendships. By giving frontline employees the space to breathe, take mini breaks and inject a little more levity and normalcy into their day, you’ll reap the benefits of a more engaged and relaxed workforce. 

Want to dive deeper into how to combat the ever-present risk of burnout within your organization? JD Dillon and Jennifer Moss’ full conversation is available for you to stream over here.

Maliyah Bernard is an academic writer turned content writer. As a former frontline worker, she loves writing about all the ways organizations can support these essential workers smarter.

Let’s work together to drive frontline performance in all the right ways.