Is there a business case for in-work friendships?

The majority of us spend most of our waking week at work and as such it’s common to count colleagues amongst some of our best friends.

By: Paul Heaton on

Most leaders are going to be more than happy encouraging positive relationships between colleagues, or in the very least helping to foster an atmosphere that’s friendly, respectful and positive.

But do those friendships hold a bottom-line business value, above and beyond simply being the result of a great environment and culture where peers get along?

There are some ways in which fostering and helping better promote friendships and positive peer relationships at work could help stimulate business results. And whilst, of course, leaders can’t force workers to be best mates, it’s interesting to understand the different ways in which in-work friendships can have a positive impact.

Here’s a look at four areas of particular interest:

Employees with friends at work are happier

First for an obvious one - having friends at work makes you happier.

A survey of 1,000 full-time workers by Paychex found a strong correlation to that statement, finding that workers with more friends in the office are more satisfied.

The survey found that employees with 3.3 friends on average were dissatisfied, whilst those with 4.3 friends at work were satisfied. They also found a correlation with feeling comfortable asking for help from co-workers, with those with 4.8 friends feeling extremely comfortable whereas those with 2.0 friends were not comfortable asking for help at all.

A further study by LinkedIn found that 46% of working professionals believe that having work friends is important to overall happiness.

Working with a friend can lead to higher productivity

Now you might think that having a BFF at work might lead to a drop in productivity. After all, those Monday morning catch-ups about weekend antics and longer-than-average coffee breaks can’t be doing much for increasing output.

But that’s not necessarily the case according to research from Gallup and Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile, who told Raconteur that: “People are more creative and productive when they experience more positive inner work life, including more positive emotions, stronger motivation toward the work itself and more positive perceptions of the organisation.

“And one of the things that contributes to positive inner work life is a sense of camaraderie with teammates and close co-workers – a sense of bonding and mutual trust.”

Read more: How to increase productivity in the workplace

That Gallup study was pretty resolute on the idea, concluding that: “Our research has repeatedly shown a concrete link between having a best friend at work and the amount of effort employees expend in their job.”

Workers are less likely to quit on a mate (and a job)

Gallup again took a hard look into the impact of friendships at work and found a correlation to retention, finding that workers are less likely to be office window shopping if they have a bestie in their current job.

When we have friends at work, we feel more connected and are more likely to enjoy heading to the office every morning. SHRM confirmed that by finding over 60% of workers who had over six office friends said they loved the organisation they worked for.

Research in this area also shows the importance of focusing on employee retention as a key business issue as employees are more likely to quit if their workplace BFF has recently left as well.

Great in-work friendships could lead to higher advocacy

Friendship and employee advocacy may not be directly correlated, but it makes reasonable sense to suggest that workers who can count colleagues as great mates may be more likely to recommend that organisation as a great place to work.

And there’s a number of reasons for that. First, having an environment where friendships can form suggests a positive and friendly atmosphere. It implies a closeness between colleagues, a certain level of teamwork and trust.

Of course, this doesn’t always ring true in every environment. There will always be more than a handful of cases of workers hating their job but loving the people they get to work with every day.

But being able to do a job whilst being with people you respect and enjoy the company of is far more likely to lead to higher advocacy than really disliking colleagues.