By Andre Lavoie, Entrepreneur
Americans spend a lot of time at work with their colleagues. While spending more than 40 hours a week at work used to mean overtime, working 41 hours or more is the norm for half of Americans today, according to Gallup’s August 2014 workweek study. In fact, the survey of 1,271 full-time employed adults found Americans spend an average of 47 hours a week with their co-workers.
Considering the fact that Americans spend the majority of their waking hours at work, it’s important they find ways to get along with the people they work with. Why?
Arguably one of the most important advantages is made apparent in the 2014 results of The Conference Board’s annual job satisfaction survey. In the survey of 1,673 workers, 60.6% of respondents cited the people at work as improving their work environment the most—even more than their interest in work (59%).
Clearly, building meaningful relationships in the office can have a positive impact on job satisfaction and, as a result, success. Here are four ways to get started building more meaningful relationships in the office:
1. Recognize peers.
Peer-to-peer recognition has been shown to increase engagement and productivity in the workplace, but it can also help employees build stronger relationships. Whether an employer creates a standardized peer-recognition program or employees emphasize recognition on their own, being aware of others’ triumphs in the office can strengthen relationships.
In TinyPulse’s 2014 Employee Engagement and Organizational Culture Report, 79% of the more than 200,000 respondents surveyed felt undervalued at work. Entrepreneurs, managers and employees who make a genuine effort to recognize other members of the team are taking the first step toward building the foundation of a meaningful relationship in the office.
2. Take team-building seriously—sort of.
Team-building. Every organization does it at some point, and most employees roll their eyes and participate because they have to. But, those who build meaningful relationships in the office take a different approach.
Instead of struggling through team-building activities, people who want to form meaningful relationships in the office take advantage of the opportunity to learn more about their colleagues. They take team-building seriously—sort of.
Team-building exercises can be a great way to connect with colleagues, but, when people take these events too seriously, they run the risk of alienating colleagues.
The trick? Focus on the people involved, not the event itself. By taking the opportunity to learn more about team members seriously—and not the chance to “win” or perform well—employees can increase their chances of making strong connections and—gasp—have a little fun in the process.
For example, some organizations may encourage participation in off-site events such as the Tough Mudder, volunteering together, monthly happy hours and other activities. Even if an employee can’t physically participate, attending and cheering on their colleagues shows “team spirit” and provides more opportunities for bonding.
3. Get out and get moving.
It can feel great to get away from the computer screen and move around during the work day. For people looking to build strong work relationships, getting out of the office could also be the key to getting colleagues to open up.
Exercise, even in small amounts, helps people recharge their minds and boost their mood. In fact, according to a 2013 study published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise, the benefits of just 20 minutes of exercise for mood can last up to 12 hours.
Since exercise has such positive effects on mood and happiness, taking a few minutes to exercise with a co-worker during the day is a good way to make a stronger connection.
This doesn’t necessarily mean hitting the weights in the gym or sweating it out on the treadmill—a simple walk around the city or through the local park can provide the time necessary to get to know one another and be the needed mood booster to spread happiness throughout the workplace.
Our San Francisco office, for instance, has a standing “meeting” on Friday afternoons to walk from our space in the Presidio to the Golden Gate Bridge and back.
4. Maintain boundaries and keep it light.
One of the most important things about making friends at work is establishing boundaries. Keep things light and focus on work, at first. Share stories about projects, weekend plans or after-work hobbies, but don’t get too deep or personal. Keep solid boundaries between work and personal sharing, until it’s obvious that the other person is comfortable becoming closer.
The second part of understanding work-relationship boundaries is knowing how much interaction is too much. When employees are aware of what bothers them about their colleagues or how long they can interact before feeling annoyed, it’s easier to avoid situations that may cause friction.
The more employees understand their needs, and those of their colleagues, the easier it will be to build deeper relationships.
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