Snowballs, Construction Paper Crowns,
and Workplace Friendships

By Brenda Clark Hamilton, MA Ed.
Several years ago, I coordinated professional development for an Iowa area education agency.  As with most positions, there were times when, in the middle of long workdays and a cold, snowy, Iowa winter, it was easy to slip into the winter doldrums.

I remember one January day in particular when my friend and colleague, Barb, a reading consultant within our agency, called me on our interoffice phone system and demanded, “Meet me at the front door—now.  Don’t bother to grab your coat.”

I met Barb at the front door and with the enthusiasm of an 8-year-old during the season’s first snowfall, Barb excitedly whispered, “Let’s go outside and throw snowballs at Lisa’s window.”  Lisa was our administrative assistant and friend, whose office happened to face the front of the building.  My initial thought was, “Barb, you’re crazy,” as we were both in nice slacks and dress shoes, and there was a good six inches of snow covering the grass where we would be launching our attack.

However, out into the snow we went, forming snowballs with our bare hands and hurling them at Lisa’s second-floor window, giggling like two kids misbehaving behind our parents’ backs.  After several thuds against the brick—and a few actually hitting her window—Lisa looked out and gave us the “Have you guys lost your minds?” look.

My friend and snowball-throwing colleague Barb was what Tom Rath, a Gallup researcher, would deem an “Energizer”.  In Rath’s 2006 book, Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without, Rath cites findings from the Gallup Organization’s extensive workplace studies to support the fact that friendships at work are not just something that is a pleasant bonus if you happen to have them, but something that is truly vital to being an engaged employee. 

According to the Gallup research that Rath cites, having close friendships at work can increase employee satisfaction with their company by nearly 50%.  It may even double employees’ chances of having a favorable perception of their pay!

The findings also show that employees who have a best friend at work are significantly more likely to:
* Have fun on the job
* Get more done in less time
* Engage their customers
* Have a safe workplace with fewer accidents
* Innovate and share new ideas
* Feel informed and know that their opinions count
* Have the opportunity to focus on their strengths each day

Barb was one of those amazing colleagues who had the capacity to lift my day no matter what stressors I was under.  She seemed to sense when I was drowning in responsibilities and would stop by my desk and insist that we take a brisk walk outside, no matter what the season and what deadlines I was facing.  For one Friday staff meeting, she created a construction paper “Staff Development Queen” crown for me to wear, and she donned a plastic bejeweled crown of her own for her 40th birthday.  She had a wonderful gift of adding fun to the workplace and support to her colleagues, while adeptly managing significant workplace responsibilities of her own.  Simply put, I was a stronger, more creative consultant—and happier in my job—because of our friendship.

The message Rath provides through Vital Friendships is pretty straightforward:  Don’t ever think that employees supporting one another in a workplace is just a nice luxury that some workers are lucky to have.  The reality is that workplace friendships may indeed be vital to employees’ sense of belonging, and may lead to them producing superior work results.

Barb and I have lost touch through the years, but I’ve heard that she is back working as a reading consultant after several years of serving as an elementary school principal.  In her capacity as school principal, I’m almost certain she had the mandatory no-snowball-throwing policy for students on schools grounds…but I’d bet pretty good money that she okayed it for her staff.
–Brenda Clark Hamilton, MA Ed.,

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