Workplace friendships essential for morale, productivity

 (<a href=`'>Friends at work</a> image courtesy of

(Friends at work image courtesy of

As I do my daily scans of articles about workplace issues, I’ve noticed a recent cluster of writers on the topic of friendships in the workplace. They all affirm how important it is, yet each opens it up from a slightly different angle.

I know I’ve thrived when I’ve had healthy friendships with a team of colleagues with whom I can be myself, enjoying lightness and humor as well as shared realism and support about our daily lives. And I’ve withered in jobs where I couldn’t bring that range of my humanity with me to work — and found that even away from work, I felt less whole. At the same time, that humanity has thrived best when there were gentle boundaries in place that guided what we all brought to each other and how.

So I was intrigued by this cluster of articles that helped me understand some of the ‘whys’ of my own experiences.

Some key points:

New York Magazine reports on a Gallup poll finding that having friendships, versus acquaintanceships, at work is one of the “strongest predictors of productivity. Studies show that employees with a best friend at work tend to be more focused, more passionate, and more loyal to their organizations. They get sick less often, suffer fewer accidents, and change jobs less frequently. They even have more satisfied customers.”
The New York Times carried an op-ed by Wharton professor Adam Grant, who also cites studies showing that workplace friendships enhance productivity but goes on to note how many American workers are less likely to notice social cues in professional settings, foregrounding work relationships rather than social relationships. In particular, Grant touched on factors of gender, religious and cultural background, and generation, ending with the point that a personal interaction at work need not be a big effort, but can “transform a transaction into a relationship.”
Also out of Wharton comes a take that broadens from individual interactions to those of the whole culture of a workplace, saying that “companionate culture” is one in which “colleagues who are together day in and day out, ask and care about each other’s work and even non-work issues…. They are careful of each other’s feelings. They show compassion when things don’t go well.” Companionate culture is “more appealing, but also is vital to employee morale, teamwork and customer satisfaction.”
And finally, Fast Company reports on the view from the other side of the fence: those who break out and move into freelance life often find that, in addition to the plusses of determining much about their worklives, they can suffer from the isolation, losing out on teamwork stimuli of support, creativity, and productivity.
Though On Being’s Courtney Martin finds that, in an effort to move beyond that isolation, freelancers are beginning to thrive in co-working spaces, where workers can seek the best of both worlds.

The verdict is in, folks. Want to feel better about walking in the door to work, even on tough days? Want to leave work feeling like you were able to process life during actual, well, life, instead of holding it all back for when you stumble through your front door at night?

Great. Look around at your workplace relationships, and see what your next steps could be. And when you’ve got a friend who glances around the cubicle wall or classroom door just to ask how you are — thank them.

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