We all know the stats about workplace friendship.
57% of employees say having a best friend in the office makes work more enjoyable, for example. A quarter say it makes them more productive, and nearly the same again say it improves their creativity.
That’s why you probably already work hard to help new hires make friends as part of your onboarding process.
You might not have thought about it, but the same principles are crucial during reboarding.
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For many businesses, long-term, established employees are returning to an unfamiliar workplace.
Widespread layoffs mean they might’ve lost their workplace friends altogether. And they’re almost certainly returning to the office at different times to their usual work crew.
Left unchecked, that’s just as much of a problem as new hires not making friends.
If that’s true for your business, managers need to make the best of a difficult situation, to help the business move productively through this hybrid period.
Let’s dig into why hybrid working can be a challenge for managers, and then talk about some tips to manage a partially remote team.
Facilitating friendships is more important during reboarding
Helping your people make friends at work is crucial during onboarding, because it helps new hires integrate into your business and culture.
It’s the backbone of an onboarding strategy that reduces new hire attrition, accelerates time-to-productivity, increases new hire productivity, fosters trust, drives engagement – and ultimately empowers the business to deliver better for customers.
And on the flipside, the costs of neglecting socialization can be huge.
A 2018 study found 10% of employees don’t have a single friend at work. 50% have fewer than five. These 60% of employees said they felt lonely either very often or always and felt disengaged with work.
Overall, lonely employees are twice as likely to look for a new job in the next year.
That’s a big problem. And arguably, it’s an even bigger one during reboarding. Because:
It’s a good bet that employees are already feeling anxious, stressed and unsettled thanks to widespread COVID-19 disruption.
Good friendship networks are recognized as one of the most important tools for safeguarding mental health – especially during difficult times. Your people need friends at work now more than usual.
Onboarding only impacts 2% of your workforce at once, so although the impact is huge, it’s dramatically lower than the potential impact of reboarding. Reboarding impacts up to 100% of your workforce at once – the stakes are higher.
Average new hire turnover rates sit around 20%. Let’s say you hire 80 people a year – that means you'd lose 16 of them within their first 45-days. Not good.
But let’s say your total workforce consists of 750 people. At 20% turnover, you could be looking at potential losses over the 100 mark, if your reboarding doesn’t tick the right boxes.
Stagnating productivity, low morale and climbing turnover are expensive problems amongst your new hire population.
They’re even more expensive problems amongst your established hires.
Your long-standing people bring near-irreplaceable company knowledge and relationships, that empower them to add more value to your business. They’re typically the guardians of your culture too; almost the DNA of the business.
Start losing those people en-masse and it’s not just an expensive inconvenience; business survival is threatened.
How to help tenured employees make new friends
Much of the same principles apply to reboarding as onboarding – but with the added difficulty that it can be much harder for tenured employees to make new friends.
- Everyone already has their established group and routines so integrating into a new group might feel forced and uncomfortable.
- Maybe employees feel they’re already perceived a certain way and don't know how to build on, or undo, that impression.
- New hires expect to feel awkward initially. Established hires probably aren’t, which can exacerbate feelings of blame and failure.
These feelings aren’t easy to overcome – so don’t leave new friendship-forging to chance. Like during onboarding, your reboarding program should include a structured approach to helping employees make new friends.
Here are 8 tactics to consider:
- Create a buddy system, pairing employees with someone new each week to help foster new connections across the business.
- Treat new groups to paid-for lunches/coffee breaks regularly, to boost engagement and facilitate new friendships.
- Ramp-up your company social calendar, where COVID-19 allows. Include lots of varied activities to appeal to a broad cross-section of people.
- Encourage managers to trial new working partnerships, where that could make sense. Could you mix and match teams for a cool group project?
- Educate the workforce. Some people won’t be struggling and might not consider that others could be. Make sure everyone’s championing inclusivity.
- Ask managers to watch for warning signs. There’s still a stigma around loneliness for many people - don’t let silent sufferers slip under the radar.
- Plan a big, fun, company event to re-break the ice amongst your workforce and encourage new friendship-building. If there’s a seating plan, switch it up!
- Create social ambassadors. Forming friendships comes naturally to some employees: charge them with spotting and helping struggling employees.
Like onboarding, it’s important reboarding isn’t just an HR initiative. Your reboarding strategy will have a much greater impact if you have champions throughout the workforce.
Reboarding is your one chance to impact your whole workforce at once. There are lots of elements to consider and the stakes are admittedly much higher – but that’s what makes this such an incredible opportunity. And an exciting one!