Four Reasons Why Workplace Friendships are Critical & Valuable

Anna Stern

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that there is a strong, well-documented correlation between job satisfaction and the presence of workplace friendships. The obvious correlation is that employees repeatedly report increased job satisfaction when they work alongside trusted, supportive confidants. What’s sad, and frankly, totally off base, is when leaders and managers view workplace friendships as a threat to productivity.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Unfortunately, many managers harbor this incorrect assumption and as a result, try to suppress workplace friendships either directly or by deliberately creating an environment where friendship-producing activities (like chatting) are discouraged, or worse, berated. The truth is that there is heaps of research that shows a concrete, direct link not just between the presence of workplace friendships and job satisfaction, but also between the presence of workplace friendships and the amount of effort an employee puts into their job. The research-backed conclusion that follows, then, is that workplace friendships are not just desirable for employees, but that they can also positively impact a company’s bottom line and profitability.

Here’s why.

  1. Workplace friendships increase employee engagement.

Given the fact that we spend more waking hours at work than home, the desire to build connection with one’s team is totally natural and healthy. In the absence of workplace friendships, employees may feel isolated/lonely and not fully energized and motivated to do their best work day in and day out for prolonged periods of time. However, if employees have friends at work on whom they can depend to celebrate and/or commiserate with them about personal and professional matters, they’re much more likely to feel more attached at work, and therefore maintain healthy engagement.

Did you know? One of the primary causes of dissatisfaction and disengagement in the workplace is an individual’s lack a sense of connection and belonging.

  1. Workplace friendships make employees more productive.

Provided managers have already met the basic engagement needs of employees (such as knowing what is expected of them, being afforded opportunities to do what they do best, and having appropriate resources to do their work), workplace friendships fuel greater performance. According to research by Gallup, one of the main reasons for this is that “when employees possess a deep sense of affiliation with their team members, they are driven to take positive actions that benefit the business—actions they may not otherwise even consider if they did not have strong relationships with their coworkers.”

Better performance leads to fewer safety incidents, improved engagement with clients, and higher profit.

  1. Workplace friendships relieve stress.

There’s no way around it: work is often stressful. And because work is such a big part of our identity, especially as the lines between “work” and “life” get blurrier, having friends at work can truly make or break our daily wellbeing. In dealing with stress, deadlines, workplace politics, difficult challenges, and inevitable disappointments at work, feeling personally connected to our peers and knowing there are friends to turn to for help makes us more likely to persevere through difficult times, and hopefully, even find a few laughs along the way.

An interesting study by researchers at Tel Aviv University tracked the health of 820 adults over 20 years, examining various working conditions, including boss’ behavior and co-worker relationships. What they discovered is that above treatment by leadership and even environmental factors, it is actually the support of co-workers that is most closely linked to good health. In fact, the study concluded that middle-age workers with little to no “peer social support” were actually almost 2.5 times more likely to die during the study.

  1. Workplace friendships decrease turnover.

Multiple studies have found that when employees have close friendships with their colleagues, they’re substantially less likely to look for and accept outside employment offers. Interestingly, this is true even when new opportunities offer increased pay. The reason? Friendships take time to build. The risk of losing, or at least substantially changing, established, special friendships often just isn’t worth accepting a new opportunity for many people. In terms of a company’s sheer bottom line, this is likely the most impactful reason why workplace friendships are valuable and not something leaders ought to feel threatened by in the slightest.

So what’s the takeaway?

Good employers recognize that humans naturally need to build meaningful connections. Companies that focus on creating a culture of support, inclusion, and teamwork are places where those meaningful connections are able to naturally thrive and grow among teammates. On the flip side, employers who actively work to block those meaningful connections not only lose the trust and respect of their staff, but they also actually expose their companies to decreased employee engagement, decreased productivity, and increased turnover. It is leaders who understand the positive impact of workplace friendships (on individuals and the bottom line) and—this is vital—actually promote that camaraderie instead of trying to squash it, that will enjoy the rewards of a more engaged, more productive, healthier, and more loyal staff.


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