Friendships at Work
“Without friends, no one would want to live, even if he had all other goods.” Aristotle wrote this sentiment, and I couldn’t agree more.
For example, I recently met a friend for coffee, and my day was brighter as a result because my friend did what he always does: listened intently to my account of my recent mishaps, offered supportive comments, and made me feel better about life in general.
According to social psychologists, my mental and physical wellbeing can be attributed in part to my friend and others like him in my life. Dr. Karen Dill, author, social psychologist, professor at the Fielding Graduate University, and blogger for Psychology Today said such friendships are important because they “fill our need for belonging. Our friends give us someone with whom to discuss our ideas, beliefs, and problems. These are needs that we can’t meet on our own.”
Obviously, friendships are important, and recent research indicates that having friends at work is vitally important. According to the study, “Work-based predictors of mortality: A 20-year follow-up of healthy employees,” published in the May 2011 issue of Health Psychology, employees with “high levels of peer social support” tend to live longer.
Work-based friendships are also beneficial to employers, according to Tom Rath, author of Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without. Based in part on research conducted by The Gallup Organization, Rath’s book indicates that an employee with a best friend at work is seven times more likely to be engaged with that work, which is good for business.
Of course, there are drawbacks to workplace friendships.
For employers, the workplace can suffer because employees might spend too much time socializing instead of working; co-workers sometimes cover for each other’s inappropriate behavior (e.g. clocking in or out for the other); supervisors who are friends with their subordinates are sometimes more lenient with them, which creates a sense of unfairness; and a variety of other issues.
For employees, too much or inappropriate socializing at work can negatively impact their professional image; covering for a co-worker’s inappropriate behavior can result in being disciplined; the end of a friendship with a co-worker can negatively impact the work environment for them and their co-workers; and the list goes on.
So, how should employers and employees approach friendships at work?
Employers should recognize that a certain amount of office camaraderie is good for business; therefore, they shouldn’t necessarily put a damper on small doses of personal chit-chat and harmless joking around. However, employers should let employees know when it appears that their interpersonal relationships are interfering with productivity and/or professionalism and even intervene if necessary.
Additionally, numerous experts caution employers and supervisors from becoming too friendly with their subordinates. In her article, “Employers, Employees and Friendship: Can Managers be Friends With Employees?” HR consultant Kate Russell says that, “It is prudent to set boundaries. I advise managers to distance themselves a little. Be friendly, but not friends.” In her article “Boss-Employee Friendships,” Amanda Vogel advises that if “a friendship with an employee even remotely compromises what’s best for business or your success as a manager, it’s time to cut ties.”
Employees would do well to follow the advice from the article, “The Dos and Don’ts of Workplace Friendships” on the Workplace Insights website:
- use your breaks to socialize instead of constantly chatting throughout the day,
- stay focused on your work so you don’t lose sight of the things that need to be accomplished,
- practice respect and professionalism by refraining from gossiping about co-workers with your work friend.
- continuously pick up the slack for your work friend,
- share everything about yourself in case the friendship sours,
- be exclusive by spending all your time with your friend.
Thus, friendships at work are good for everyone involved, as long as they don’t interfere with work.