The Unsung Hero of Retention

457515435“It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and I’m wearing Milk Bone underwear.” — Norm Peterson, the TV show Cheers 

Even if you don’t work at the bar where everyone knows your name, some of the longest-lasting friendships are often formed in the workplace. Considering the sheer number of hours spent together on the job, this is not surprising. We spend a significant portion of our lives with coworkers, likely even more time than we spend with our family. Colleagues start out as strangers, but soon enough, they often know more about what is going on in our daily lives than our best friends outside of work.

Sharing small bits of information with coworkers can truly build a relationship over time. Many years ago when I started working at Chase Manhattan Bank as a credit auditor, I met a new colleague named Jeff Edwards. I started getting to know him through seemingly trivial facts and idiosyncrasies, such as his major in college and how he takes his coffee. From there, it progressed to learning about his family, hobbies, and sharing jokes. Jeff is one of the smartest people I have had the privilege of meeting, and I am proud to say he became a mentor to me. We got to know each other quickly through business trips all over the world, including some memorable trips to Australia and Panama. Throughout my life, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to 65 countries, and many of the earliest ones were with Jeff, as well as with other great, friendly, helpful coworkers. I was fond of many of my colleagues, but Jeff became one of the reasons I looked forward to going to work every day. No matter what project we were working on, it was always an enjoyable experience. I have always believed in myself, but Jeff taught me how to take that feeling to a higher level.

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Eventually, Jeff left Chase to attend Harvard Business School (HBS). I was awed that he was accepted into such a prestigious program, and wished I could follow in his footsteps. Jeff told me if I wanted to go to HBS too, I should apply. At first, I thought he was simply proving the point to me that I should go after my dreams. I certainly didn’t think I could actually get in, but he nudged me to be more serious about applying. To my surprise, he almost insisted I apply, and took it upon himself to help me by reviewing and providing input on my application. I was completely floored when I received the acceptance letter from HBS stating that I had been accepted. Without Jeff’s encouragement, I would have missed out on a life-changing opportunity. We were able to spend one year together at HBS, and since then, we have stood up at each other’s weddings, and I am the proud godfather to one of his sons.

When I look back at how Jeff and I met, the importance of coworkers to engagement really hits home. I liked my job at the time, but my coworkers were what kept me most excited about going to work each day. I have seen this situation play out for countless employees at all kinds of organizations, oftentimes at a far greater level of intensity than I ever experienced. Many employees feel underappreciated and underpaid, they do not like their manager, and they cannot relate to the organization’s strategy and mission. Despite all of those Engagement detractors, they continue working for the same organization because they like seeing the people they work with every day.

Coworkers are the unheralded glue of what makes employees come back to work, and even look forward to it.

As an employer or manager, feeding coworker satisfaction is in your best interest. Eighty-seven percent of employees say their coworkers are friendly and helpful, according to HR Solutions. Considering how positively employees respond to this survey item, employers can easily capitalize on this engagement driver. By allowing staff the opportunity to socialize and have fun throughout the day, organizations are able to foster employee camaraderie and coworker satisfaction to bolster engagement.

MORE: Easy ways to keep your employees happy

Kevin Sheridan
Kevin Sheridan is a New York Times best-selling author, a frequent keynote speaker and the chief engagement officer of Kevin Sheridan LLC. He can be reached at kevin (at) kevinsheridanllc (dot) com.

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