work friendships blockheads

Is your coworker also your close friend? Or is your close friend also your coworker?

Office friendships can be a great source of pleasure and support, but they can also be a challenge to navigate. Many have ambivalence toward forming deeper friendships with their colleagues for a number of reasons. Perhaps they worry about the potential for distraction, influence on decision making, or awkwardness during performance reviews. Despite these legitimate concerns, research on workplace friendships suggests they are crucial to both personal health and organizational success.

Friendships Alleviate Stress

In a breakthrough 1995 study, Christine Riordan and Rodger Griffeth found even the possibility of friendship formation increases both job satisfaction and organizational effectiveness. This finding takes on particular importance when considering that in 2014, 80% of Americans stressed over at least one thing at work. Furthermore, a 2013 Lifeboat report found that a whopping three-quarters of Americans are not truly satisfied with their friendships. By more than a 2:1 margin, respondents said they would prefer a smaller number of deeper friendships to a greater number of friends. Given the increasingly eroding distinction between work and home life, the office seems like a promising option for adults seeking deeper friendships.

Friendships Foster Loyalty

In a recent post for Harvard Business Review, Riordan asserts that office friendships foster group loyalty. This, in turn, leads to shared commitment and discipline toward one’s work. Similarly, a 2012 Gallup report found that 50% of employees with a best friend at work felt a strong connection with their company. Meanwhile only 10% felt this connection without one. In fact, “good relationship with coworkers” was the most frequently cited reason in a 2013 survey for 2,223 people planning to stay in their current job. Three studies by workforce intelligence company Evolv found employees referred by friends are less likely to quit and more productive.  Consequently, employees trained in a “friendly” culture stayed with their employer twice as long as those who were not.

friendly statue

Friendships Improve Performance

In “The Best Place to Work,” psychologist Ron Friedman asserts that having close friends at work brings with it a number of benefits, like combating loneliness. Prolonged loneliness makes it more difficult for people to relax and fall asleep. In turn, this can lead to diminished cognitive function such as impaired memory formation and learning ability. Surrounded by friends in the workplace means spending less time worrying about fitting in and pay more attention to our work. Personal connections between colleagues also boost motivation, because poor performance at work means letting down friends.

Friendships are not the only way to enhance productivity or boost engagement in the workplace. However, friendships are unique because their strength endures, and even grows, when other standard retention incentives wane in a bad economy. Friends are an invaluable resource in the workplace. They provide an emotional support system and a network for helping to more efficiently execute one’s job. Friedman acknowledges that making new friends can be scary because of the shared risk involved in disclosing personal details with an acquaintance. That being said, the above trends should encourage anyone who is hesitant about opening up to coworkers. The message is clear: a little vulnerability in the break room can go a long way.

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