- Having a best friend at work is an influential factor on the employee experience
- Just 20% of higher ed faculty and staff report having a BFAW
- Close work relationships increase employee confidence and development
Having a best friend at work is an important foundation that enables higher education employees to thrive within their workplace. In Gallup's research with millions of individuals globally, Gallup finds this best friend is an important support system for an employee, and that an employee with a best friend at work is more connected to their organization.
"Best" Friends Make the Greatest Difference
Gallup's Q12 survey covers 12 key elements that evaluate the extent to which an individual employee is engaged in their work. Included in this survey is question 10 -- "I have a best friend at work." Among the key 12 elements that Gallup covers in its proprietary measurement tool, this item is among the most important to the employee experience.
Gallup finds that having "a best friend" is a distinguishing characteristic between high- and low-performing workgroups, and that simply having "a friend" is not.
Individuals who strongly agree they have a best friend at work are 37% more likely to report that someone at work encourages their development, 28% more likely to report that someone at work has talked to them about their progress in the last six months, and 27% more likely to report that their opinions seem to count at work -- all of which are especially important to millennials, who constitute at least 38% of the total U.S. workforce.
Despite the importance of having a best friend at work, Gallup finds this question is very controversial for new employees participating in engagement efforts for the first time at their organization. Employees often bristle at the term "best" and are more likely to report they have "a good friend" or "a friend" at work. Gallup finds that having "a best friend" is a distinguishing characteristic between high- and low-performing workgroups, and that simply having "a friend" is not.
Employee Engagement in Higher Ed
In higher education institutions nationally, about two in 10 faculty and staff members report having a best friend at work, making this the lowest scoring of the 12 elements of engagement for faculty and staff members, but very similar to the national average.
Fortunately, improvement on this item is possible, and it starts with understanding what a best friend at work means for an individual employee. At the University of Maryland, College Park, institution leaders have seen an increase in their mean score on this important item. The University of Maryland has partnered with Gallup since 2016 to measure and improve employee engagement as a part of its Thriving Workplace Initiative, which is designed to make the university the best place to work.
Nationally, just 34% of all faculty and staff are engaged in their work. Improving that rate must include a new understanding of the power that having a best friend at work wields.
Any improvement in engagement levels is going to result, in part, because of the ongoing conversations university leaders have with individual work groups about what it means to have "a best friend at work." During these conversations, leaders ask their teams to respond to this question, "What are the qualities of a best friend?" After the list is generated, leaders ask their teams to add the words, "at work" to the question and ask participants to cross out any items that no longer apply. The list almost always remains the same and employees leave the conversation with a new understanding of what the statement, "I have a best friend at work," is assessing.
Importantly, improvements in understanding often generate improvements in the percent of employees who report having a best friend at work, and in turn related gains in total engagement levels.