General Business

Ask the Experts: Leaders, Friendship and Lunch Breaks

In the latest installment of New Jersey Business Magazine’s Ask the Experts column, HR professionals working with the New Jersey Business & Industry Association respond to executives’ inquiries on three interesting workplace issues:

How do we know when an employee is ready for a leadership role?

Promotions into leadership too often come with little discussion about how the leadership role will be different from the current role or whether the employee has the interest or skill set to be an effective leader.

Fortunately, there are indicators that someone is likely ready for a leadership role. These include (among other traits) their ability to communicate effectively, inspire and motivate others, resolve conflicts while minimizing drama, adapt to change, and take accountability for the work of their team.

If there’s an employee you’d like to promote, but they haven’t expressed an interest in a leadership role, schedule a meeting with them to talk about the idea. Share why you feel they are ready for the role and what it means to be a leader within your organization. Ask about their career goals and how they would like to advance within the organization. Let the employee know how you can support them with these goals, whether or not they move into a leadership track.

If the employee is interested in leadership, provide them with a clear picture of the responsibilities and the training and guidance they’ll receive as they move into the new role. Most employees who are new to leadership will need extra support as they transition into a position of greater responsibility.

Should we encourage our employees to be friends at work?

It’s great to create a workplace where people have the opportunity to form friendships, but don’t worry if not everyone shows interest in befriending their coworkers.

Friendships at work can be a way for employees to feel connected and that they belong in the organization. A Gallup poll from 2022 found that having a best friend at work provides essential emotional and social support that people need and ties strongly to key business outcomes.

You can encourage friendships in the workplace by scheduling time during the workday for employees to get to know each other. Team lunches, game rooms, and coffee outings are popular options. Video chats – just to connect, without an agenda – are common in remote organizations.

It is also important to remember not everyone wants to make friends at work. Some employees would prefer not to socialize much, and they can be just as productive and engaged. Don’t exclude or marginalize employees who don’t participate in the social activities. In general, while encouraging employees to form friendships can have many benefits, you need to do so in a way that respects all employees’ preferences.

A remote employee is working through their lunch break. Can we require them to take it?

Generally, you can and should require an employee to take a lunch break. In many states, employers are required to provide employees with rest breaks, meal breaks, or both, and are sometimes even required to provide them at specific times during an employee’s shift. An employee skipping these rest periods could result in noncompliance with those laws.

Before taking any adverse action against the employee, try to find out why they’re working through their break. Perhaps they would rather take their break at a different time, or maybe their workload is so heavy they feel they have to work through breaks to keep up. We advise approaching the employee with curiosity and looking for a solution that works for both of you.

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