Are Friendships the Key to Workplace Happiness?

friends-at-workEditor’s note: This is a guest post from Eileen Habelow, senior vice president of organizational development for Randstad.

A recently published Conference Board study found that only 45 percent of Americans are satisfied with their jobs.  While the causes of dissatisfaction may be many, it doesn’t seem to be rooted in the person we sit across from in cubicleland.  In fact, a new Randstad Work Watch survey reveals that American workers seem to be happier at their jobs because of the friendships they cultivate with coworkers – 67 percent reported having friends at work makes their job more fun and enjoyable and 55 percent feel that these relationships make their job more worthwhile and satisfying.

But not all workplace friendships seem to be created equal as the survey also found that people characterize their professional relationships in a variety of ways, from personal friends with whom they interact inside and outside of work (38 percent) to friendships limited to the workplace and workplace functions (32 percent) to even friendships cultivated out of sheer necessity or convenience for work purposes or alliances (17 percent).

Positive Work Culture

Whatever the category or reason for these friendships, Americans seem to be viewing workplace friendships as possessing more benefits than risks.  Interestingly, the top responses from the survey aligned more to workplace culture: a more creative and friendly workplace (70 percent); increases teamwork (69 percent); increases morale (59 percent); and increases knowledge sharing and open communication (50 percent).

There is no denying that workplace friendships can contribute to a positive workplace culture, including increased productivity and creativity, heightened morale, enhanced personal performance and stronger team cohesiveness.  But many times employees aren’t even aware that these small, but positive changes are good for their company’s overall business.  It’s almost hard to not befriend coworkers given the amount of time many people spend at their jobs, whether due to the current economic climate, job responsibilities or one’s own personal work style.

Work Place Friendships

On the flip side, some employees do see risks in having workplace friendships, most commonly because they feed gossip (44 percent), create favoritism (37 percent), blur professional boundaries (37 percent) or create conflicts of interest (35 percent).  Fewer believe that these friendships can cause others to feel uncomfortable (26 percent), reduce productivity or performance (22 percent), reduce constructive feedback/openness (19 percent) or reduce loyalty to the company (6 percent).

Although some working adults see a downside to having workplace friendships, just 12 percent felt that making friends at work was risky.

It probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise then that managers have a slightly different view of workplace friendships.  When asked whether they support or encourage the development of friendships in the workplace, 49 percent indicated they did, while only 29 percent of non-managers felt their workplace supported these relationships. This difference in perception provides an excellent opportunity for managers and employees to talk about the importance of building relationships with team members and fostering an environment of support and collaboration.

The survey also found that managers were more likely to feel that workplace friendships create conflicts of interest and cause other employees discomfort.

Blurred Lines

Regardless of personal beliefs, there is no denying that the lines between working Americans’ personal and professional lives have blurred.  One reason may be the expanded roles and responsibilities many have taken on due to layoffs and hiring freezes.  Roughly a third of survey respondents said their family knows their friends from work (39 percent) and that they discuss personal matters with their workplace friends (32 percent).  However, a similar number (37 percent) felt that it was smart to keep personal and professional lives separate.  Not surprising, only 5 percent stated that there was no one at work that they considered to be a friend.

So what do workplace friends do outside of the four walls of the office? According to the Work Watch survey, many felt that activities such as attending movies and concerts or going to bars and dinner (61 percent) or hanging out casually at one another’s home (57 percent) were proper activities. But respondents seemed to draw the line at vacationing together and going on romantic dates.

Clear Boundaries

Remember that it’s always best to establish clear boundaries, keeping in mind that conversations and personal information shouldn’t be divulged, but rather kept within the circle of friendship.  Likewise, maintaining personal time away from the office and away from workplace friends can be very healthy in the long run.

What do you think?

Do you have a best friend at work?

Do you need a friend at work to enjoy your job?

Eileen is currently the senior vice president of Organizational Development with Randstad, the world’s 2nd largest provider of HR solutions and staffing. Eileen is responsible for leading efforts in training and development, performance management, leadership development, HR consulting, and diversity.

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* J.D. of Get Rich Slowly has a guest post called Reader Story: Be Happy on Your Own Terms. Stop conforming and start living.

If you enjoyed this post then you will probably like this one too:

> How to Build Better Relationships at Work

> Never Stop Expanding Your Network

Image courtesy of The Brownhorse

9 thoughts on “Are Friendships the Key to Workplace Happiness?”

  1. Jarrod@ Optimistic Journey

    Last year, I worked on a temporary assignment at our local Blue Cross Blue Shield, here where I live and it was a team of us. Roughly about 20 people. And they were all nice, such lovely people.

    I guess being the optimist that I am, I see the bet in everyone but, I actually LOVED going to work everyday because I made such good friends there.

    Work was fun because of the relationships we had with each other, so I’m a testament to the fact that, Yes, friendships are key to workplace happiness. They may not be the only key but they play a very important part!!

    Great post Eileen, thanks for sharing!!

  2. One of the most important tests I think is whether you feel your team has your back. If you were in a boat, would they push you overboard, or help you out of the water? … it sounds silly, but that little test tells you a lot about the context you’re in and whether you can go out on a limb.

  3. Friendships were the reason I stayed at my last job as long as I did. I’m a connection-oriented type of person, so from Day 1 I set out making friends at work. By the time I left (7 years later) I’d forged some of the greatest bonds imaginable, that stay with me to this day even though I quit the job finally!

    In today’s world of social media and people connecting more and more “outside” of work, I think blurred boundaries between work & personal will become more prevalent, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Many people spend more than half their lives at work — if that can’t include really heart-felt connections, I’d question a person’s quality of life.

    Karl, you’ve had some tremendous guest authors lately — wow, and thanks!

    Happy Monday!

  4. Hi Eileen,

    Interesting post–thanks for writing the article. Over the space of many years in one place, I experienced the best of what workplace friendships had to offer, and I was also a witness to some of the challenges that can emerge among office friendships–particularly when a good friend of an employee is brought into the same department. For the most part, I’ve found that the best policy is to most definitely cultivate friendships at work yet still keep a bit of a boundary in place between the personal and professional. I agree with J.D.’s test–and would add the caveat that things can change and for all kinds of bizarre reasons you might your former friendly colleagues are ready to toss you into shark infested waters.

    I’d be interested in knowing whether there were any questions on the survey about personal friendships with bosses. That particular dynamic can really open a can of worms around favouritism and conflicts of interest within a department.

  5. I think friendships are what makes our work world go around but I’m a strong believer in boundaries. If you have are in primary relationship outside of work (husband, boyfriend, girlfriend) it’s important to keep that friendship primary or there will be problems. My best friend is my hubs…is today and always will be.

    Two girlfriends I’ve made at work over 15 years ago are two people I continue to respect the most over other friends to this day. One only needs to remember where their primary commitment lies and if they are being true to that. If so every other friendship will fall into a healthy place. If not the primary one will eventually crumble.

  6. I always made friends at work and while they made it easier to go in every day, they didn’t help me enjoy my time at work any better. I met my husband at work and we had to keep it quiet for a long time, he worked in HR…a big no-no! But we figured, our relationship was too important and if it became a problem one of us would leave and find a new opportunity.

  7. Friendships are certainly important to making one’s day and job much more enjoyable but I don’t think it is linked to happiness really. One can like their job and still not be happy and vise versa. Friendships make it more likely as we gain our basic needs from connecting with others and building relationships that are important and enjoyable to us but all too often, friendships at work are not the best friendships anyway, they are often shallow connections formed out of a work based need or position, not out of love. There in lies the difference to me.

  8. I definitely agree with what Megan said — given the amount of time most people spend in an office environment these days, we’ve got to make some friends there if we crave a sense of connectedness with others in our lives.

  9. Richard |

    Be content without friends and the ones you do have will be a totally new experience. You’ll be happy without them so you can give them your best side all the time because you expect nothing in return to “fill you with happiness”.

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