Manufacturing Workplace Bliss

Posted on March 27, 2014

This year, 116,000 Americans will spend an average of 42 hours per week at work. For most of us, that’s most of our waking life. Yet, according to Gallup 13% of US workers feel engaged by their jobs.

A growing body of academic study is investigating how optimize the work environment so that workers report better health and well-being. A couple of years ago, after distilling interviews from more than a million Americans, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index concluded that the #1 environmental feature determinate of whether or not an employee likes his or her job has noting to do with natural light, air conditioning of free cappuccino machines. Indeed, what most seems to make us happy at work is whether or not we have a best friend at work. But how can employers foster relationships between their employees without getting involved in messy interpersonal matters?

Here’s are five strategies managers are using to transcend work relationships beyond just day-to-day business.

1. Moais

2. Swap Wood for Glass

3. Divide Departments

4. Bigger Lunch Tables

5. Turbocharge Happy Hour

Form Moais

Residents of Okinawa, Japan owe their extraordinary longevity in part to supportive peer groups called moais. Salo LLC, a Minneapolis-based recruiting firm, took a cue from the Okinawans and formed small groups based on things people had in common rather than their title or department. The moais held bi-weekly potlucks and other off-site activities, establishing genuine friendships that made a huge difference back in the office. “People were happier, more engaged and more collaborative,” said Salo Co-Founder Gwen Martin.

Swap wood for glass

Wood panels and isolated offices dominated the floor plan when ad agency Martin Williams moved into its current space. The layout made it tough for employees to see each other, let alone befriend each other. So CEO Tom Moudry tore down several walls, swapped wood doors for glass doors, and added a ‘town square’ complete with dart boards and a beer tap. “We created more transparent personal spaces and more collaborative communal spaces,” explained Moudry. The result? A happier, more friendship-friendly office.

Sub-divide departments

According to Gallup research, companies with 10 or fewer employees have the most engaged workers. But it’s the feeling of being part of an intimate team not the number of desks in the office that seems to make the difference. Companies of any size can encourage close-knit connections by forming small sub-teams (think three to four people) within larger departments.

Buy bigger lunch tables

Small groups may be good within departments, but it’s also important that employees mingle with a mix of coworkers. One way to help people grow their office network is by lengthening lunch tables. Researchers at the Harvard Business School found that bigger tables prompted employees to eat with coworkers that wouldn’t otherwise be part of their social circle. Over time, these employees built a wider work support network.

Have the right kind of happy hours

Coworkers have long bonded over an after-work beer. In fact, one survey found that half of office friendships begin through extra-curricular activities. But that same study showed that coworkers are more likely to form genuine friendships if they talk about topics other than work. To encourage this kind of dialogue, organize happy hours around non work-related events (Martin Williams hosts “True Detective” viewing parties) or have employees bring a ‘plus one’ to prevent conversations from veering into office politics.