Valerie Jarrett knows she's better at her job when she works with people she can get to know personally.
It's why she hired a then-engaged Michelle Robinson (who after marriage became Michelle Obama) to join the Chicago Mayor's office in 1991. Jarrett says speaking with the young lawyer on a personal level about family, passion and purpose was a key part in making a job offer on the spot.
Relating to others personally has helped Jarrett succeed in stressful work environments, including serving in the White House as senior advisor to President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2017.
But developing coworker rapport isn't as easy when schedules are packed with high-pressure meetings. So how did Jarrett carve out this personal time?
By having dinner with her colleagues.
"When I worked in the White House, the women in the White House started having dinner with one another," Jarrett tells CNBC Make It. "We talked about everything: family, children, spouses, summer vacations, books we've read, frustrations with the office. And as a result of those dinners, we really got to know each other and build friendships with each other."
Studies have shown people who have a best friend at work are happier, healthier, more engaged and more productive. What's more, a survey from job site Comparably finds the majority of workers, both men and women, say they have a best friend at the office.
This kind of camaraderie may have helped women succeed in the Obama White House, who were noticeably in the minority during his first term. As The Washington Post reports, two-thirds of Obama's top aides were men when he took office in 2009. Female staffers soon adopted a meeting strategy they called "amplification." When a woman in the room made a key point, other women would repeat it and credit the original speaker as a way to force the men in the room to recognize the contribution.
Having a friendship that extends beyond 9-to-5 can be beneficial back in the office.
"When you go to work and you're sitting around a conference table, and you just had dinner the night before with somebody there, it gives you a sense of confidence about speaking up in a way that you might not have if you didn't have that out-of-work relationship," Jarrett says.
That's not to say every worker will want to spend all their free time with their coworkers. But Jarrett points out the value in taking the time to get to know colleagues beyond their job title and responsibilities.
"Oftentimes we're so busy performing the objectives of the job that we forget to build relationships with the people we work with," Jarrett says. "Every time I've left a place of employment, what I've missed most have been the people, and that takes time and effort — and a lot of that happens outside of the office."
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