The Links between Workplace Friendships and Employee Engagement
Do you have friends at work? As you look across the organization, does it appear that most employees have friends at work?
Here’s why those questions matter:
- Workplace friendships are crucial to our overall happiness in life (Fast Company)
- A great friendship at work increases employee happiness as much as earning an additional $100,000 per year (The Atlantic)
- Having friends at work makes it 7 times more likely that an employee will be engaged in their work (Comparably Job Site)
- 37% of employees say “working with a great team” is their primary reason for staying (Gusto)
- 61% of employees say a colleague’s support helped them through a challenging time in their personal life. (Workforce/Globoforce)
- “Establishing avenues for employees to connect with each other creates social channels where people can connect in a meaningful way.” (Darcy Jacobsen, Globoforce)
In sum, friendships at work result in higher levels of employee satisfaction and engagement. Employees with interpersonal connections to colleagues are more likely to stay with the company, too.
How Do Employees View Their Colleagues at Work?
There seem to be two schools of thought. One says that personal and business relationships should be kept completely separate – no fraternizing at work. The other advocates for collegiality and works to make it “feel like a family” at work.
Studies indicate that:
- 54% of workers say they like the people they work with (CareerBuilder)
- 71% of employees think it’s okay to “friend” coworkers on Facebook (OfficeTeam)
- Employees feel it’s okay to follow coworkers on Twitter (61%), Instagram (56%) and Snapchat (44%) (OfficeTeam)
- Only 12% say their closest ties are with people from their professional life and only 19% say they have a significant relationship with a co-worker (American Life Project)
- 51% of employees keep in touch with a former co-worker when they no longer work in the same organization (Gallup)
There may be some reservations, especially in America, about classifying colleagues as friends. In Europe, 25% of co-workers have traveled together on vacation. That number is 50% in India. But it’s only 6% in the U.S. It appears that American workers keep their colleagues at an arm’s length.
This ONU study gave people six ways to classify the people they work with. Only 35% chose the categories with the word “friend” included – 15% said “real friends” and 20% said “only-at-work” friends.
How Workplace Friendships Benefit Businesses
Gallup found that having friends at work significantly boosted employee engagement levels and improved business outcomes. People who have friends at work are:
- less likely to be actively looking or watching for job opportunities
- more connected with their coworkers, knowing what is expected of them and trusting their integrity and ethics
- more likely to rate their own, their team's and their organization's performance more excellently
- more likely to take risks that could lead to innovation
- more likely to have a positive experience during the day, such as enjoying what they do, making more progress and getting recognized for successes
- less likely to report having a negative experience during the day such as worry, stress and feeling tired
Considering the benefits, perhaps more employers should consider fostering friendships at work. Since so few employees and companies seem to be doing this in the U.S., it could be a point of differentiation and a competitive advantage.
Next Steps for Fostering Friendships in the Workplace
If you decide to encourage workplace friendships, be proactive to head off issues like these:
- The challenges that stem from workplace friendships include a blurring of boundaries, getting distracted, feeling betrayed, and changes in reporting relationships. Each of these can reduce work outputs (Morrision & Terry)
- When promoted from within, two-thirds of first-time managers said that their biggest challenge was transitioning from peer to boss (CEO Today)
- “Getting too close to a coworker can reflect negatively on you if your friend isn’t reviewed in high regard.” (Vicki Salemi, Monster.com)
- Romantic workplace relationships can become problematic. 10% of female workers who had a workplace romance left their job when the relationship ended. (The Harris Poll)
Being aware of the possible risks, though, shouldn’t keep you from seeking the benefits. Hiring people who can handle boundaries and exercise good judgment will mitigate some of these risks. Setting clear expectations for professional conduct also helps prevent issues like these.
You can’t, of course, mandate that people befriend one another. What you can do is encourage people to get better acquainted, to support each other instead of feeling isolate, and to have fun together. Team-building activities, potlucks, celebrations, and special projects provide opportunities for making connections that are strictly work-related.
Help managers to understand the value of workplace friendships, too, so they won’t inadvertently discourage them. It may be more productive, not less, for co-workers to engage in social conversations periodically. Setting aside time that isn’t task-oriented may be necessary for team members to get better acquainted. Managers should model openness and interest that extends beyond the work shift.
It starts at the top. Do executives seem to like and know each other? Do they talk about each other in friendly terms and model deep and abiding connections? To set the tone and give tacit permission for friendships to form, start by encouraging executives and senior managers to connect with each other. Don’t force it but do look for the natural opportunities. Let them know why this matters and how it benefits the business.
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