Rewarding work hinges on the quality of peer relationships.

Today’s workforce is driven by a different set of values than their predecessors — rather than a maxed out paycheck, employees today are searching for meaningful, rewarding work that provides a sense of fulfillment beyond the material. Particularly for younger generations, the most impactful workplace motivator is a sense of purpose. That’s not to say monetary incentives have lost all significance, but a truly effective leader in the modern world must understand that employees also need to be supported in their drive to do rewarding work.

One of the ways people find meaning at work is through the functions associated with their given role. Another way is through the bigger-picture impact their company makes on the world at large. A third factor behind rewarding work is the work environment itself, which is defined by the relationships shared between colleagues and the culture that emerges as a result.

While all of these things are important factors to consider for a leader trying to support rewarding work, some are more within managers’ ability to control than others. This article focuses on how bonds between peers can make for more rewarding work. We’ll explore how strong relationships are related to rewarding work, share the benefits of having a workplace with strong peer-to-peer relationships, and leave you with strategic recommendations for how to systematically support strong relationships between colleagues.

How can relationships contribute to rewarding work?

It goes without saying that sharing close relationships with your colleagues makes your work environment more pleasant — it’s always better be in the company of friends compared to strangers. But do relationships really impact the employee experience so deeply that they actually contribute to more rewarding work?

Based on the title of this article, you can probably already guess that the answer is yes, but let’s explore why. The impact of peer-to-peer relationships on creating rewarding work functions on several levels:

1. Peer Relationships Fulfill Employees’ Social Needs

Humans are inherently social creatures. In fact, the need to form meaningful relationships with others comes immediately after the need for physical safety in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Being one of the most important experiences in life, it makes sense that quality relationships are an essential ingredient for meaningful and rewarding work.

In order to feel that they're doing rewarding work, people need their social needs fulfilled.
In order to feel that they’re doing rewarding work, people need their social needs fulfilled.

Now, consider the fact that 78% of employees who work the average 40-hour work week spend more time with their coworkers than their families. If work is the environment where employees spend the bulk of their time, for that work to be rewarding, these social needs must be fulfilled.

According to Forrester analyst Nigel Fenwick, within the social tier of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (traditionally referred to as “Love and Belonging”) there are four varieties of needs. Fenwick describes them as follows:

  • Communication: the ability for members to easily share with others.
  • Connection: finding people and making connections.
  • Contribution: helping others and being able to recognize the contributions of others.
  • Creation: the ability to create and/or work together on a shared problem.

An effective social community, according to Fenwick, must satisfy at least one of the four needs listed above. He goes on to explain that the more needs a given community (in this case, the workplace) can support, the more appealing the community is.

All of this can be helpful to keep in mind as you strive to help employees build bonds as a method of supporting rewarding work.

2. Peer Relationships Contribute to Professional Growth

A workplace that continually pushes employees to learn and evolve will help employees find meaning in their work. This is the second way peer-to-peer relationships contribute to rewarding work — they help employees develop professionally, which contributes to a critical sense of career advancement.

Peer mentorship programs are a great way to contribute to professional growth.

One of the best ways for employers to support rewarding work is through peer mentorship programs. Peer mentorship programs take a less formal approach to traditional mentor-mentee relationships by forming lateral connections between colleagues at comparable levels of the organization who have something to learn from one another. In some cases, these bonds lead to even more rewarding work and learning than the traditional mentor-mentee relationship because they offer reciprocal learning opportunities. For example, maybe one employee has extensive knowledge of a role’s technical skill set, while the other offers guidance on creative direction. In cases like these, peer mentorship relationships are a great win-win situation.

Sometimes peer mentorship relationships emerge organically.In other cases, management has a hand in intentionally pairing people up. Whatever the case, be sure to give employees some input as they are best equipped to describe their own goals, identify who they connect well with, and communicate what they’d like to get out of a peer mentorship program.

3. Winning and Losing as a Team Means More

The third and last way that peer-to-peer relationships contribute to rewarding work is through the level of emotional support and connection they offer colleagues. Through good times and bad, the entire employee experience is more meaningful when a person is able to share it with colleagues they genuinely consider friends.

Rewarding work usually involves team-wide celebration of major wins.
Rewarding work usually involves team-wide celebration of major wins.

On the one hand, it’s a lot easier to persevere through challenges when you can call on your colleagues for support. According to research, this is a benefit that employees frequently capitalize on — in fact, 61% of employees say that they’ve had a colleague help them through a difficult time at work.

On the more positive side, major accomplishments and professional milestones mean a lot more when there are people to celebrate them with — and even better if those individuals are colleagues you regard as friends. In this sense, peer-to-peer relationships make for more rewarding work by giving employees someone to celebrate with when things go well. The joint celebration amplifies all of the good feelings that come with a big win.

For leaders looking to support rewarding work for employees at their organization, these three related benefits of peer-to-peer relationships can be helpful to keep in mind. In many ways, rewarding work hinges on the existence of meaningful workplace relationships. In the next section, we’ll dive into how and why companies can support those bonds.

How can companies support peer-to-peer relationships?

We know how peer-to-peer relationships contribute to more meaningful work, but what actions can companies take to ensure colleagues connect? And on a more strategic note, is it financially worth it for companies to invest in measures to support strong relationships between peers?

How can companies support rewarding work?
How can companies support rewarding work?

Let’s tackle the question of company ROI first. Studies show that employees who have close friends at work enjoy a variety of favorable outcomes that ultimately support more success in their professional roles and as a direct result, better outcomes for the business. Among the many advantages had by workplaces with strong peer-to-peer relationships are:

  • Peer-to-peer relationships increase job satisfaction, which is related to employee turnover
  • Employee engagement is positively correlated with the number of friends the employee has at work. Only 28% of employees without friends at work reported feeling engaged, compared with 69% of employees with a large cohort of friends.
  • Employee performance is heavily impacted by informal communication, which improves when peers have strong bonds
  • Employees with high-quality workplace relationships experience lower stress

With these benefits in mind, as well as the motivation of knowing employees crave rewarding work, only one question remains: how do you take action as an organization to support strong relationships between peers?

Some of the obvious strategies that come to mind are indeed helpful starting points: company-sponsored lunches, team outings, and other social engagements offer peers a chance to get to know each other. Talking about more than just what goes on in the office can spark connections over shared common interests or experiences. You can’t force all of your employees to become best friends (nor would you want to push it to that extreme) but you can create space for natural connections to emerge.

Employee recognition programs can help support rewarding work.
Employee recognition programs can help support rewarding work.

The social activities mentioned above are a good place to start, but to leverage peer-to-peer relationships as a way to make work more meaningful, you need to translate these outside-of-work connections and tie them directly back to the work itself. But how?

One effective way to do this is through a company-wide social recognition feed where employees can let each other know how much their hard work is seen and celebrated. Friends see and celebrate the best in one another, and workplace friendships are no different.

Fond has compiled several useful resources related to setting up effective, culturally transformative employee recognition programs that can help spark new or strengthen existing relationships between colleagues. 

Start with these resources to learn the most important things to look for in a program, and best practices for getting the best results.

When companies support strong relationships between peers, they contribute to more rewarding work which helps company success.
When companies support strong relationships between peers, they contribute to more rewarding work which helps company success.

Employee recognition programs leverage peer-to-peer relationships to help employees help each other find meaning in their work. When colleagues feel connected, the day-to-day functions of their professional roles become more meaningful, because they represent contributions to a team of people the employee genuinely cares for. Developing peer relationships makes colleagues more deeply invested in team success, which in turn makes for more rewarding work and contributes to the sense of fulfillment that today’s job seekers value so highly.

Katerina Mery is a Marketing Specialist at Fond with a background in cognitive psychology and a passion for improving the way people live and work. She especially enjoys learning about how to accomplish this through rewards and recognition. In her spare time, you can find Katerina running outside, admiring art, and exploring the latest and greatest local restaurants.