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Workplaces provide a sustaining community to employees – research


New research by Penna Sanders and Sidney explores the social and commercial advantages of workplace friendships.

The context for the study was the breakdown of the traditional networks that support individuals - family, neighbours, the church and so on - and hence the importance of the workplace as a source of social community and friendship.

The same social backdrop was found in the different countries we studied - increase in divorce, single person households and self-centered urban living were all given as symptoms of change.

In the US, major research shows 'a serious erosion of a very valuable asset - the social networks that connect us with one another'. This is further analysed as the movement from 'communities of place' to 'communities of association', where people create a sense of belonging by meeting others (directly or over the world wide web) who share the same interests rather than the same street.

The workplace is one such community of association and our research confirms its importance and value both to employees and to employers.

Three quarters of both groups say that the workplace is important in providing a source of community and thus a sense of security and that work comes second only to family in our priorities - before other key drivers such as friends and time.

Friendships are important to the workplace community. Just under half of employers feel the number of workplace friendships has grown over the last five years, while employees say that nearly two out of five of their current friendships are formed as a result of work.

Employees talk of lasting friendships and working relationships, while employers focus on the marriages that are formed in the workplace.

While friendships might not be regarded as core to an organisation, there are some clear business advantages to harnessing them within the workplace community.

Because employees put such store by their workplace friendships, this can add to a sense of loss when made redundant. Almost three quarters of employees have felt a sense of loss when leaving a job.

Employees say that the workplace community has influenced their decisions to join an organisation, to stay with one, and to commit themselves more to their work.

They also say that the general benefits are more motivated staff, better team working and a better atmosphere.

Employers are less likely to have considered these tangible benefits to the business, focusing on the impact of the workplace community on atmosphere and overlooking the commercial advantages.

Only eight per cent of organisations have formal policies in place to develop the workplace community and the main objectives of both formal and informal policies is to improve staff morale. Yet the views of employees suggest that objectives such as motivation and retention could be higher up the list.

Activities in the UK focus on social programmes and team building events, while our research in other markets suggests a more varied programme.

Perhaps it is not surprising therefore, that 94 per cent of employees in the UK feel that organisations are missing an opportunity and could do more to take advantage of the workplace community to improve profitability through improved continuity of employment and productivity.

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