Friendships in the Workplace Good for Court Performance

People who have a best friend at work are seven times (yes, that’s seven times) more likely to be engaged and committed to their jobs, writes Tom Rath in his new book Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without (Gallup Press, 2006). They get more done in less time, are more innovative, and more likely to share new ideas. Moreover, employee satisfaction jumps by 50% and doubles the chance that employees will have favorable impressions about their pay when they have close friendships. “When we asked people if they would rather have a best friend at work or a 10% pay raise, having a friend clearly won,” writes Rath, who heads the Gallup’s Organization’s Workplace Research and Leadership practice, and based his findings on more than five million interviews and other research done by Gallup.

The lesson for courts and court organizations is that they should make their workplaces more “friend-friendly.” However, Gallup found that many managers and leaders frown on workplace friendships. Nearly one-third of the 80,000 interviewed by Gallup agreed with the statement “familiarity breeds contempt.” For courts, where attitudes are shaped by legal and political principles of impartiality and independence, the notion that work life should be separate from non-work life is probably more prevalent than in the private sector. Courts discourage workplace friendships at their peril. Friendships in the courts do much more than provide a forum for bellyaches about the boss – they foster collaboration and connections, increase motivation, and give people a boost.

A much broader lesson is that courts should pay more attention to their most valuable resource – its workforce. Committed and loyal employees have a direct positive impact on a court’s overall performance. Performance measures that focus on employee engagement, motivation, and commitment can help courts pay attention to the health and capacity of their workforces. “Someone in the court cares about me as a person,” is an item in the Court Employee Satisfaction Survey, one of 10 performance measures of the National Center for State Courts’ CourTools. Paying attention to responses to this item and other in the survey enables courts to evaluate the origins (e.g., units, departments and locations) of “exception” conditions – both superior and inferior – and to identify the root causes of problems and quickly fix them. Courts throughout the country – including the Maricopa County Superior Court in Phoenix, the San Joaquin County Superior Court and the San Mateo County Superior Court in California, the Lubbock County Judicial Branch in Texas, and the Morrow County Court of Common Pleas in Ohio -- increasingly are using Measure 9 of the CourTools, the 20-item Court Employee Satisfaction Survey, to make improvements in their programs and services and to change the they way they do business.

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