Last Thursday, Beehive celebrated being named a Minnesota Business “Top 100 Company to Work For” at the magazine’s annual congratulatory event. I am always on the lookout for how we can become an even better place to work and anticipated taking notes on what landed the other 99 companies on the list. But as I watched the submitted videos, observed hundreds of attendees enjoy each other’s company, and laughed until I cried with my co-workers at the event emcee, I was instead reminded: Employee engagement and positive cultures aren’t really about adding Benefit X or Perks Y and Z, they’re about relationships. Making connections. Building trust. Forming friendships. Ultimately, making work more fun both through individual experiences and the overall culture. With 4:5 business leaders ranking employee retention as urgent and at the same time nearly 70 percent of employees are disengaged, on-the-job satisfaction and happiness are a red flag issues. How can companies engage? Encourage Workplace Friendships. With less division today between work and home lives, workplace friendships are more important than ever. A Ragan Conference I live streamed yesterday cited a recent LinkedIn Relationships @Work study, which reported 46 percent of workers say that work friendships play a role in their overall happiness (that increases to 57 percent for millennials). However, as a country we reportedly have fewer work friendships than we did in the past. Adam Grant, a New York Times contributing opinion writer and Wharton School professor, says in a Fast Company article that we’re frequently going to the office to be efficient, not to form bonds. We too often choose productivity over friendships. Yet that’s eroding happiness and impacting turnover. Create opportunities for teams to connect inside and outside business hours, develop small cross-department, cross-generational work teams, start special interest groups like book clubs or running groups, match new employees with buddies. Create Opportunities for Connections. Rather than focusing on large company events where it’s easy to blend into the crowd, create opportunities for your team to connect in smaller groups or 1:1, where it’s easier to share more about themselves and open up and build relationships. Consider small-group improv classes or 1:1 peer mentoring. Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, says creating opportunities for vulnerability is key to establishing authentic connections. Be Both Intentional – and Spontaneous. Being planful about activities, events and celebrations keep fun top of mind and intentional. Beehive, like other companies, has its own annual favorites like March Madness, Mexinavian Day and our holiday dinner. But equally important is looking for those natural, spontaneous opportunities for fun – something we can do more of – and empowering employees to contribute. Like an impromptu lunch outing or DQ run, afternoon trivia game or 15-minute dance party or karaoke session. Millennials especially are looking for more fun at work, continuing again to blend the lines between work and play in a way their predecessors have not. The stats are clear. Turnover is high. Employee engagement is low. And employees who feel connected and have fun at work are the ones who stay on the job.