Regardless of the range on your social meter, you can find friends within most workplaces. When you spend the majority of your existing moments working with a team, you begin to tie bonds to those around you. It’s a natural step of our existence as a social species. We are, in all facets, communicative and empathetic, relying on friendships and partnerships to both motivate and ground us. Therefore, it’s only natural for work friendships to congeal organically. After all, if a team is considered to be successful, they have bonds, even if just acquaintance-level.
But what’s the importance of work friendships? Are they a useful bond to create, allowing your employees to bolster their work ethic, company care, and workforce culture?
On the other hand, are they essential for workers to have in order to maintain high spirits and productivity? Do they actually impact your work ethic and willingness to show up every day?
While we would never desire a world without friendship, we must look at work relationships with an unbiased lens. To find the true nature of their being and labor importance, we must put those years of budding devotion aside. We must put on our psychological goggles, peering into the drab world of isolation and humanity without affectionate communication.
Here’s our guide to work friendships and their overall effect on employees (from both perspectives):
- A Decrease in Friendship
- Should Companies Truly Care?
- Are There Negatives?
- How to Increase Friendship?
- As an Employee – Should You Care?
A Decrease in Friendship
Let’s begin with the genesis of this article; the nugget of news that expanded into an entire entree of friendship and fun.
According to a quarterly Gallup survey done in June 2022, just 2 in 10 adult U.S. employees say they have a “best friend” at work, a significant drop from pre-pandemic workplaces. The percentage under age 35 dropped by 3 points when compared to pre-pandemic 2019, to 21% from 24%.
Ironically, and somewhat depressingly, the need for having work friendships increased dramatically during the pandemic. As times became tough, being able to reach out to someone with the same mindset and defining situations (the same employer) became crucial.
When work-based issues or emotions arise, who is better to alleviate the issue and understand the circumstance than a friend that works at the same exact company?
Why Is This Happening?
On paper, the decrease in relationships makes complete sense. The working world has dropped from in-person contact to hybrid and remote operations, lowering the overall need for communication and, in return, emotional connection. As a species, in-person communication is more significant in building trust and ongoing relationships. Therefore, in the apparent absence of it (though for the greater reason of avoiding spreading illness), you can’t expect the truly sociological budding of face-to-face interaction.
It’s also important to note that some workers that began working during the pandemic have not met any of their coworkers in person. They began working in a remote model and have stayed there. While workers that knew each other in person before moving to mobile work may be able to maintain close friendships, those that never had them in the first place struggle to create concrete structures.
For example, Crystal Powers, a medical records supervisor, told the Associated Press that she began a new job remotely in February 2022. She has yet to meet 2 of the 5 people who report to her in person and has found it challenging to bond with her fellow managers online.
Consequently, before we even begin to delve into the importance of work friendships, we have to note the overarching negatives. The working world does not look as if it is changing in the coming years (if ever). We have established a comfortable and effective way to work remotely, lowering the need for outside costs, office spaces, and carbon footprints. Henceforth, the aforementioned 2 of 5 statistic may continue to decrease.
An UpWork study hypothesized that 22% of Americans will be working remotely by 2025.
This does not bode well for work friendships.
Friendship in the Zoom Age
If your company is not looking to return to the normalcy of in-person work, should you worry about the connections forming (or not forming) within your workforce? Should you be pushing toward tactics to enforce those bonds, creating best-friend combinations in the workforce?
To truly answer this question and raise the real color of alert, we must look at the need for friendship, the performance behind kinship, and the trouble that may arise if it is crushed in its entirety. What is the future without workplace friendships? And should you, as the employer, truly care what your workers are up to in regard to communication?
Though the whole ‘best friend’ statistic may seem concerning, does it truly have an effect on your team’s future and productivity?
The answer seems to be an astounding ‘yes’.
Should Companies Truly Care?
Ultimately, there is an overarching taboo in the working world. The concept of the ‘leave your personal life at the door’ has become a mainstay in American work culture. In general, employers don’t believe that personal matters, like creating relationships that are stronger than the job, should even be a matter of discussion. It’s an idea we created at the beginning of our establishment as a capitalistic culture, for better or for worse.
At the precipice of the idea is protection for the employer themselves. After all, there are some rocky waters at the bottom of creating workplace friends. Romantic relationships bolstered by the workplace are often the beginning of legal or cultural trouble. Relationships that aren’t romantic can still lead to drama, creating legal grey areas. Therefore, it makes sense that companies don’t want to get involved with personal situations from the jump.
But, it’s impossible to put empathetic and communicative humans together for 40 hours a week
and not expect personal relationships to bloom, whether positive or negative.
Henceforth, companies should care about what goes on within their team due to the effects it may have on the overall workplace. But should they care about the interworkings? Do they make a difference?
Satisfaction = Productivity… In a Vacuum
It doesn’t take a plethora of stats to back up the main idea of work friendships. If a worker has close friends on the job, they are more likely to be happy during work. Happiness often leads to an increase in workplace satisfaction and production, making friendships a booster for employee work ethic.
If the idea is too abstract or vapid, then there are plenty of studies to back up the idea that friends in the workplace improve team production.
A global study by the International Social Survey Program (ISSP), proved the improvement in production, stating, “Interpersonal [work] relationships have a sizeable and significant positive effect on the job satisfaction of the average employee. [Relationships] rank first out of…12 domains of workplace quality in terms of power to explain variation in job satisfaction.”
According to a study by the Atlantic, having a friend that you see on most days has the same positive effect on happiness as earning a significant pay raise. They considered working with a friend on most days to be the psychological equivalent of earning $100,000 more each year. And, according to LinkedIn, 46% of professionals believe that work friends are important to their overall happiness.
The numbers don’t lie, check the scoreboard. On paper, friendships should increase productivity and workplace happiness significantly. Now, it’s important to note that this is when relationships are in good places, but we will get to that shortly.
Simpatico = Company Culture Cruciality
Having a strong team with ties to one another creates a strong culture. This culture will help contribute to the integration, recruiting, and onboarding of new higher, too.
Think about it this way: is a fantastic new employee more willing to choose a company that they see has friendships amongst the team or one that doesn’t?
Therefore, having workers that like each other is one of the cornerstones of creating a strong and thriving company culture.
Building company culture is crucial to creating a workplace that satisfies every employee. Simply put, creating a culture allows everyone to feel fulfilled, understood, and motivated. It works as both a way to keep current employees and attract great ones in the future.
Overall, every step on this list relates to creating a fantastic workplace culture, but hiring the right people is the first step. If you tend to hire productive, energetic, and empathetic employees, you will organically create a workplace that is such. And, if your culture remains positive and inclusive, you will be able to keep great workers around.
Not only does a strong and positive culture affect current employees, but it is a top priority for new ones, too. TeamStage has stated that company culture is important for 46% of job seekers. According to Monster, 83% of Gen Z employees say that a company’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is one of the top priorities when choosing an employer.
We won’t bend your ear too long about creating culture, for we have plenty of articles on it, but we can’t underestimate how important a happy workplace is for lowering churn.
Henceforth, having employees that like each other feeds into the establishment of a culture, helping bolster all the benefits that come with it.
If an employee enjoys the people they work with, they are more likely to want to stay at the company through thick and thin.
According to a 2014 study by SHRM, 62% of employees with 1 to 5 work friends said they would reject a job offer; that increases to 70% for those with 6 to 25 friends at work.
Darcy Jacobsen, senior content marketing manager, blogger and analyst for Globoforce, told SHRM, “The more connections you form among employees … the more people are going to feel embedded and enmeshed and loyal to the company.”
According to information provided by Statista, 81% of those surveyed believe loyalty is the top quality of a good friend. So, if you have good friends in your workforce, they are likely to be close and loyal to each other, sticking with the company when times become tough. Though, there are a few downsides to this idea.
Are There Negatives?
Absolutely. Notice how we keep using the phrase ‘on paper’? Work friendships are good in theory. In practice, things can become dangerously murky.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world built upon fairytales and pots of gold. When you combine an array of emotions and motives, especially with the added aspect of friendship-level honesty, dependency, and loyalty, troubles can stir. When you have a team of complex individuals all becoming personal friends, your likelihood of toxicity increases tenfold.
As we stated, romantic relationships in the workplace can lead to both cultural and legal issues. If, for some reason, there were to be a falling out between the two parties, their workplace satisfaction would drastically decrease, causing a significant loss in productivity and culture. If they were to bring other work friends into the relationship fold, you are looking at a snowball effect of picking sides and emotional hurdles.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t just go for romantic relationships.
The possibility of personal negativity can occur in any relationship, even work friendships. If the parties are to become upset with each other (even if due to problems outside of work), their productivity is likely to dip. Their teamwork will also substantially drop. And, if they have a full group of work friends, drama can ensue, tearing apart the once-positive culture.
Furthermore, loyalty between friends may interfere with working conditions. For example, if workers become close friends and one of them has issues or distaste toward a specific supervisor, the other is likely to find a negative connotation in said supervisor. If they are speaking negatively about other workers outside of work, they are likely to sway each other’s opinions and loyalty.
As stated, there’s a reason companies decide to forgo the benefits of friendships and inform workers to leave personal ideals and issues at the door. When placing the complexity of human relationships into the workplace, you take an extreme gamble on whether it will lead to improved production or increased drama.
At the end of the day, this is speaking about employees as if they are not real people. It’s speaking about workers on paper. Relationships are likely to form whether you want them to or not.
How to Increase Friendship?
So, you have decided you need to increase the company culture and friendship level amongst your employees (or your fellow employees). Great!
At the end of the day, it depends on a plethora of different factors. Is your team entirely remote? How many people work together? Are you all in the same department?
As we have stated, friendships (or at least happy acquaintances) will form naturally. Have enough people together for 8 hours a day and bonds will form through sheer proximity. But, things can be done to increase the positivity and bond-tying, especially if your company works remotely or in a hybrid model.
Here are a few tips to help promote work friendships:
If your company doesn’t have a strong culture, you must start by building one. Try building communication amongst employees. Maybe hold a team-building event outside of work. Figure out what ideals and culture you want your team to have, and start working to establish it.
What fun activities can your team due to help build communication and kinship?
Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to follow the cliche team-building exercises you might see during your first day of school or in instructional videos. You don’t have to do trust falls or three truths and a lie, but you can find free and fun ways to interact with each other. Maybe hold a lunch together instead of taking lunches individually. Maybe have a meeting in a place outside of the office.
More Face Time
Ultimately, allowing your workers to become friends involves allowing them to be together. If your office has become drab or stagnant, your employees may need more time together.
This is especially true for companies that are hybrid or completely remote.
Though we broke down team meetings and their unnecessary nature in an entire article (here), meetings are still crucial for staying on the same page and creating working relationships. Therefore, they should never be eliminated fully.
Furthermore, the need for communication as a means of increasing production is necessary for remote workers. We need communication, and remote workers tend to lack the avenues to reach it (with text chats being an outlier). We broke down the need for remote work communication here.
Make sure to hold meetings with your remote workers that requires Zoom or other video calls, not just phones. If you are hybrid, hold your meetings in person. If you are remote but all work within the same city, hold a few meetings in-person, even if you don’t have a mutual office. The togetherness and ability to meet each other face-to-face will increase friendships.
For new workers, attach them to a buddy during their onboarding or training period. Not only will this ease their transition into the established company culture, but it will create new friendships among them and veteran workers.
For example, if the new hire is training for two weeks, have them train the majority of their time under one person. Or, if they are training individually, have them report to the one person for any questions (that aren’t necessary for the supervisor). This is a quick way to establish kinship from the get-go.
Microsoft found that when its new hires met with their buddy more than 8 times in their first 90 days on the job, 97% said that their buddy helped them become productive quickly. But when new hires met with their buddy only once during the first 90 days, that number was only 56%.
As an Employee – Should You Care?
When speaking to employees specifically, the need for work friendships truly depends on the individual. As stated, we are speaking about employees as if they are just numbers on paper.
As a worker, you may not want to build friendships in the workplace. You may want to clock in, do your job, and clock out. And, there’s nothing wrong with that. If that is what you desire, then that is what you desire.
The issue is being amicable. Even if you don’t outright want friends, being mean, cold, or unapproachable can lower everyone’s workplace satisfaction (including you). Therefore, while we won’t say you need to make friends, you need to be friendly for the wellbeing of everyone around you.
Never Force Friendship, but Be Approachable
There’s a fine line between being too comfortable with your professional peers and being too closed off. It’s a fine dance that takes time and perception.
Yes, being too personal and creating out-of-work friendships with employees can be problematic. But, being a brick wall will lead to cold, boring work relationships.
Be friendly with employees. Not everything has to be work, work, work. Allow for unrelated conversations at the water cooler. Open up and lighten up. Don’t be so comfortable it creates issues, but don’t be a statue.
What if You Work From Home?
Working from home can be a lonely experience. Human contact is important in keeping your mind healthy and working. Finding work friends from home can be even harder.
It may be impossible to form relationships as strong as in-person ones remotely, but you can still form some type of kinship. Keep lines of communication with coworkers open. Meetings on applications like Zoom can help you feel fresh and communicative and keep efficiency high. It’s also nice to see a friendly face!
In addition, daily communication can be a great way to keep your energy and spirits high. While there may no longer be water-cooler conversations, having open chats with coworkers on apps like Slack and Google Chat can be a great way to keep things feeling normal.