Shannon Banks: Why Friendships in the Workplace are Vital

In: BlogDate: Nov 15, 2016By: Claire Lickman

Shannon Banks is a consultant, facilitator and coach with 20 years of experience working with organizations in the commercial sector through her company Be Leadership.

Prior to her current work, Shannon spent 17 years as a business and HR leader at Microsoft. At the 2016 Happy Workplaces Conference, she discussed the importance of friendships and connection in the workplace – a subject she’s previously guest blogged for us about, too (click to read her guest blog, Connecting for Happiness).

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Shannon Banks: Why friendships in the workplace are vital (FULL VIDEO)

I’m thrilled to be here, it’s very nice to be here, and what an inspiring talk from John from Gore. I have 15 minutes with you before you get a break and I wanted to drill into something John talked a little bit about, which is about the power of connection. He mentioned the importance of having a friend at work and we’re gonna talk a little but about that.

I spent 17 years at Microsoft and I absolutely loved it there; like Gore it had a lot of qualities that made it an amazingly happy workplace, and I left a year and a half ago, and I was really really scared to leave. But I really wasn’t that worried about status, I wasn’t particularly worried about financial stability even though I was going off to set up my own company. What I was worried about was that I wouldn’t be happy because I had been so incredibly happy at Microsoft and I felt a really really strong affiliation and connection with all the people that I worked with, so I was really really concerned about that. Now, luckily, I found out that that continued after I left, but that sentiment is not too surprising.

Back in 2013, Harvard released a study called The Harvard Grant Study, the results of it. You might have heard about it: it was a 75-year longitudinal study into what makes us happy and satisfied. And two out of the five core findings of that study were related to connection and relationships.

So the first one was that love is the foundation of happiness in life, and if you don’t have love, it’s very very hard to be happy.

And the second is that, the more connections you can create across your life, across all elements of your life, the more satisfied you tend to be in your life, and that includes work. So if you can create connection and have strong relationships in the workplace, it actually increases your satisfaction with your life overall.

I’d love to get a show of hands: how many of you feel like you have a good friend at work?

Oh that’s awesome. OK. So I would raise my hand to that, absolutely.

People with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be motivated and productive.

Like the stuff that John said, from First, Break All the Rules, very very connected to your productivity and motivation is how connected you are to the people in your workplace.

Now, you would think, based on that, that everybody would have a good friend at work. No, they do not. This was just an article about friendship at work and you can see it’s from 10th June 2015 – it’s from last year: “My work colleagues are just that: colleagues. They are not friends”. That’s very clear. So in actual fact, 42% of people in the UK say they have a good friend at work. And in the US, from the 1980s where it was about 50% of people had a good friend at work, it’s dropped all the way to less than a third say they have a good friend at work.
Now, that’s down to a number of things, but one of the things they tie that to is tenure, because we no longer have jobs for life. Very rare; 17 years? Not that common actually.

So, I’d love to do this with you if you don’t mind: I want everyone to stand up.

Now, I want you to sit down if you’ve only been with your employer one year or less.

Now, I want you to sit down if you’ve been with your employer two years or less.

Five years.

Ten years.

Fifteen years.

Twenty years.

Wow – that’s really amazing! So this room is actually not really that representative of the overall workplace. And we still have people standing! How long have you guys been with your workplace? Thirty years, wow. Congratulations! That’s amazing.

Anyone else still standing?

21 years at Happy? That’s amazing too!

Henry? Twenty-eight years at Happy. So Happy has a couple people in the room with more than twenty years.

So, if we’re at our workplace for a really long time, clearly that should increase our happiness. But the number of years people are staying at work is declining, and therefore the connections that we have with people aren’t necessarily as strong. And we’re timid. I think the research says that it actually seems that people see work as more of a transient place and actually the data is not reflected in the room. One in five people has been at their employer no more than one year, if you look at the data. One in two people has been at their employer no more than five years, which really wasn’t reflected when we looked at the data here.

I would argue that connections in the workplace are more important today than ever, and I argue that partially because of this guy here. Does anybody know who Frederick Taylor is? I see one raised hand.

Frederick Taylor is somebody I think everybody should know about because we all live by his rules, pretty much, today. Frederick Taylor is a guy who lived during the industrial revolution, he was a Quaker mechanical engineer in the States, and he created today’s org chart, just to simplify it. He was really interested in efficiency and he created something called Scientific Management, which is what we live in in corporate life today and a lot of businesses today. So, top down hierarchies, really strict job descriptions, which, based on where they were before that, created a whole lot of efficiency that didn’t exist before.

But I’d argue that we are in a very very different world to the world of Frederick Taylor, and actually, social connections matter a whole lot more than they used to.

Today, we live in a far more flat, far more connected workplace, and in actual fact, lots of what’s going on in the world, partially due to technology, is increasing the rate at which we need to communicate with people and the degree to which we need to communicate and connect with people. If you look at technology in just stats, the average European family has ten devices. How many of you guys can relate to that, how many people think they have ten devices in their family? If you count them all up, you’ve got iPads, phones, TVs, you’ve got devices under your TVs. The average number is ten. I was looking at data for Facebook; I think it’s 1.58 billion unique users every day. And what happens is, we’re used to that in our home/personal environment, we go into work and we expect a greater connection in our work environment.

So, I would say that social connections in the workplace matter more than ever before.

In my remaining five minutes with you, I have put on your tables an envelope, so each of you hopefully has an envelope. What I have in that envelope are a number of social traits that are needed to be successful in today’s work environment. And I would argue that if you work on developing these social traits, you can create a happier work environment for yourself. So what I want you to do is look at those for a few minutes yourself and I want you to rank them for yourself, from the one you feel you practise the most and are strongest at to the one that you feel is potentially least strong, or the one that you just don’t practise as often. Take just a minute and try that.

Once you have those in an order that you’re reasonably comfortable with, I want you to pair up with someone at your table next to you, and I want you to talk about what insights you have from this and maybe one thing that you could potentially do differently in the next week that would help you develop more strong connections at work, using these skills – either leveraging a strength, absolutely great, or working on something that you feel like you could use more. Just talk for a few minutes about that.

Can you just share a couple of insights that you had? Anyone want to share?

Q1: I was wondering, with the way the world’s moving with more and more people becoming self-employed and perhaps one-man bands, how that will affect friends at work?

Shannon: Well I think it probably contributes to that number declining and yet, being self-employed now having been in corporate, I would argue that the connections are absolutely just as important – exactly the same skills necessary, whether you’re a one-man band or you’re in a 40,000 or 100,000-person company. Even though I’m self-employed, I would say I have strong relationships at work because I have lots of colleagues that I work with, engage with: they just don’t happen to work directly with me, for me. So I think we’re aiming for the same end, just with a slightly different dynamic.

Q2: A few years back we were in a similar situation. Our department had a lot of contractors, a lot of people who weren’t permanent employees, and we found that that had a negative effect on connectivity and motivation, because people thought that these people were working for themselves, rather than working for the overall good. I think we have a lot better motivation now that we’ve got back to a point where a lot more people are permanent employees of the institution.

Shannon: Do you have any solutions for engaging those non-permanent employees?

Q2: I think it’s difficult how you break through the perception from the permanent employees that essentially those people will come, they’ll go; it doesn’t matter too much, how much investment they have in the workplace because, for them, they can go next week and do something else, and I’m not sure how you break that characterisation.

Shannon: Anyone have any suggestions for breaking that?

Q3: I’ve got some colleagues here today I’ve been working with for about six months and I’ve formed really strong bonds with them and I do feel invested in the companies that I work with and I think that perhaps being successful and independent is a lot down to what John was talking about, about the character – and if you are that type of person that takes on board the values of the company you’re working for then you need to make sure you’re a good fit and make sure you’re being authentic and transparent. That’s the difficulty isn’t it, if that’s the perception and how that is turned around, essentially.

And actually what you’ve said is something to do, partially, with the individual character of the person who does the self-employment and the contracting and I think that’s something to think about as you hire and also remembering that their motivation and their productivity is impacted by how well they feel connected with people they work with as well, so it’s just as important to engage them.

Click here to download her PowerPoint presentation slides.

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Claire Lickman

Claire is Head of Marketing at Happy. She has worked at Happy since 2016, and is responsible for Happy's marketing strategy, website, social media and more. Claire first heard about Happy in 2012 when she attended a mix of IT and personal development courses. These courses were life-changing and she has been a fan of Happy ever since. She has a personal blog at

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