Developing Effective Office Camaraderie

How do you write an HR blog post for Valentine’s Day? Don’t worry, we’re not going into anything romantic. But that doesn’t mean we can’t discuss a more general kind of love in the workplace, namely, effective office camaraderie.

Effective office camaraderie has many benefits: it increases individual employees’ happiness, It makes it easier for team members to communicate, and it can lead to improved retention rates. Also, Gallup found that employees who have a best friend at work are seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs, are better at engaging customers, produce higher quality work, have higher well-being, and are less likely to get injured on the job.

Office camaraderie has huge benefits, so it’s worth developing at your organization. All it takes is arranging 20, 50, or maybe a couple hundred different personalities. You have to make sure that so that everyone is included and no one feels frustrated, both in one-on-one interactions and at the group level.

Easy, right? Well, it might be if everyone felt the same way about other people. But there’s a full spectrum of how people prefer to interact with each other, ranging from social butterflies who barely tolerate sitting at their own desks to wallflowers who never look up from their monitors. Before you can create an office camaraderie that works for everyone, you need to identify and accommodate everyone’s differing need for both space and interaction.

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Some People Need Space. Others Love Company. Why?

Our life experiences shape us differently; for one person, spending their days talking to people is the only way to go, while another might prefer space and quiet. If it were a binary question, we could have the outgoing people gather together in one massive convention hall while the “I need space” people go work in their internet-connected monasteries. But like all other personality aspects, each person’s level of introversion or extroversion falls somewhere on a spectrum and often depends on the situation.

It takes a deeper knowledge of a person to know how they react to specific situations. For example, if you saw one of BambooHR’s co-founders, Ryan Sanders, speak at the BambooHR Summit last year, you probably wouldn’t think, “Wow, this person is shy.” But he’d be the first to half-joke that he’ll need several hours at home later to “recharge his introvert batteries.”

Ryan has found an effective balance, one that plays on his personal strengths while overcoming some of his limitations. His introversion doesn’t get in the way of what needs to be done, whether it’s spending time alone to strategize or presenting that strategy to the entire company.

It takes a lot of work to find that balance, and it starts with accepting different personality types as part of your work life. After all, you’re the most normal person you know, right? It’s everyone else that is overly talkative or freakishly shy.

This tendency to give more importance to our own behavior leads to many attribution biases, including the Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE). Summed up, the FAE means that we’re more likely to attribute others’ behavior to their personality instead of their situation. So when the programmer doesn’t join in the daily office Nerf war, the group might think it’s because she’s an elitist snob who doesn’t like camaraderie, while the reality is she’s in the middle of a project that needs constant focus. But when both she and the game players assume that her motivation is obvious based on their biases, there’s greater potential for misunderstanding.

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These attribution biases help protect our self-esteem or our sense of social acceptance and safety. How you approach relationships isn’t something that changes quickly; in fact, most of it starts in childhood. According to relationship psychologist John Aiken, the more secure you were in your relationship with your parents, the more moderate you end up on the scale between clingy and distant. If your parents rejected you, you might try to avoid rejection by avoiding people. But if you had inconsistent attention, you might crave attention from those around you.

Supporting Office Camaraderie

These insights show that it’s not a simple task to take each of your employees and nudge them into the middle of the clingy/distant scale. A policy or activity from HR isn’t going to outweigh a lifetime of deep learning. But you can set up a culture that helps encourage each employee to reach out to others for ideas and inspiration then knuckle down to get the work done.

Consider the following when shaping your office culture.

Balance Introversion and Extroversion

For decades, extroverted tendencies like assertiveness, boldness, and energy have been packaged and sold as dynamic leadership. While these characteristics can help drive passive team members along, they can override contributions from more introverted members.

There’s a psychological concept called dominance complementarity: in a nutshell, there needs to be a balance of dominant and submissive personalities to avoid friction on a team. BambooHR calls this principle Lead from Where You Are and lists it as one of our main values. The right solution to an issue can come from an introvert or an extrovert, and it depends more on the situation than anyone’s overall personality tilt. When there’s trust on all sides, introverts have space to speak up while extroverts feel comfortable sharing the spotlight.