What would the world be without friendships? Good, bad or ugly, stories and ballads have been written about them for time immemorial. Love in its simplest form, trust without price and compassion are unquestionably true. There’s no rulebook for where or when to meet a friend, so when experience and skills put you in the same building, room or slack group as people of like mind, the only way to go is the direction of camaraderie and forming relationships that are beneficial from 9 to 5, on the weekends and outside of the work environment.
Human beings are social creatures with minds that crave familiarity. When we are in familiar environments and surrounded by people we are comfortable with, other things can easily fall into place. Existing management research has brought to light data on many important factors in the workplace over time and shows how social dynamics can affect employee performance. This implies that workplace friendships have a significant impact on the way employees perceive the importance of their jobs. Happiness gained from genuine friendships can influence the quality of work. A survey by researchers from Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois of 3,000 American workers showed that up to 35% of employees become friends at work. Also, more than half of all work friendships are formed quickly, within weeks of meeting and 22% happen after working together for a couple of months.
Friendships at work have been categorized into two groups:
• Blended friendship – consists of close friends who are embedded in the same work environment.
• Multiplex friendship – consists of a relationship that exists both inside and outside the workplace, with multiple contexts and superimposes friendship with work-focused interactions.
Effects of Workplace Friendships on Productivity
Millennials who currently account for up to 50% of workers are changing and reshaping organizational culture all over the world and will seriously consider the effects of a new position on their work-life balance, which includes work, home, family, friends and mental health. Especially since the pandemic and the rise in remote work options, happiness at work is being linked to the quality of relationships formed with team members. A study of relationships at work with professionals around the world by LinkedIn has found that 46% of people believe that work friendships boost happiness. 58% of men and 74% of women indicated that they wouldn’t trade camaraderie for a larger salary at a different company. Therefore, companies can reap many benefits by addressing factors to attract and retain this group of people by ensuring optimal balance in the area of work through useful investments, flexibility, employee benefits and holistic initiatives that contribute to the development of social connections, collaborations and support in the workplace, for a more rounded professional life and job satisfaction.
The connections formed at work have a positive impact on work life, positive emotions and mental health. In fact, strong mental health leads not only to the absence of mental health issues but a state of well-being and the ability to cope with the normal demands of everyday life. Most importantly, healthy employees are more likely to work productively and contribute to organizational success and overall society. With workplace friendships being multifaceted, consisting of work-focused communications and the benefits of friendships, they can also be seen as mixed blessings. Counting on the ease of communication and awareness of shared interests, employees are able to identify their skills alongside those of their friends, ask for help without fear of judgement, gain and share cross-departmental information, and learn ways to evolve and develop in their work output and career journey.
Although Issues can arise from difficulties in separating work instructions from the banter between friends, studies show that multiplex relationships in the workplace can benefit employee job performance through trust and the provision of shared resources. Maintaining a good work-life balance, positive emotions, and strong mental health goes a long way to increasing creativity, productivity, motivation towards the job, general outlook of the organization.
How Can Organizations Encourage Work Friendships
Times continue to change and could be said to be the reason for an increase in the need for workplace friends. The older generations may have struggled with sharing information from personal life to salary and other significant relationships. However, over 67% of millennials agreed that they are willing to share personal details with their workplace friends. These many small changes, akin to little droplets of water that make an ocean, contribute to bringing people closer together to create the “work family“ rhetoric that goes on to shape organizational culture and employee retention. As organizations continue to adopt relevant survey questions from one Gallup research of 1999 that include questions like; “do you have a best friend at work?”, it is important for companies to employ people who can build relationships with other members of staff, as this affects communication, formation of silos and employee engagement.
Many organizations also employ tactics that promote workplace friendships like social events, including team lunches or dinners, retreats, ping-pong tables at the office, retreats, coffee breaks both physically and virtually, as provided by LEAD.bot on Slack and Microsoft Teams, especially for employees who work remotely or from different locations across states and countries. All in a bid to encourage the communication and relationship building that is important to support relationship building, mentorship initiatives and other useful schemes, where employees share burdens to reduce stress, learn important skills, make fewer mistakes in their jobs and promote the vision and mission of the business. LEAD helps the company workforce build trust and friendships, making it easy to launch virtual or in-person outings, encourages peer-to-peer learning opportunities, and helps build internal networks for new hires and existing employees.
Employees and organization management need to take mindful steps towards approaching these workplace relationships, especially those of a multiplex nature. Where the benefits of having friends at work can be seen in a quick chat that restores motivation, it can quickly become problematic when one quick chat increases to several over the course of the day and includes subjects outside of business matters. Therefore, with a thoughtful approach to workplace friendships, dynamics can be managed better and the business can benefit from the positive relationships among its employees. Bearing in mind that a high percentage of adults spend most of their time in work environments, it would be counterproductive to limit the formation of friendships to other activities in life outside of the workplace. Multiple sources of research have proven that the benefits of workplace friendships outweigh the downsides, as positive work relationships go a long way to improving work-life balance. Therefore, organizations can benefit from promoting workplace friendships as factors of their employer branding, rating and reputation to further improve employee motivation, happiness and by extension, organizational productivity.
Ways to make Workplace Friends
In many cases, networking and forming new relationships can prove to be difficult tasks. Workplace friendships can still maintain professionalism and can be approached in the following ways:
• Names – introduce yourself and remember the names of others.
• Greetings – a simple hello and goodbye at the beginning and end of the workday can build useful impressions that lead to friendships.
• Plan and initiate activities – simple activities like getting coffee or taking a lunch break with colleagues can provide opportunities to know the people you work with outside of the office setting. Virtual coffee and pizza breaks with LEAD.bot on Slack and Microsoft Teams can also benefit remote workers. Other team members could be craving meaningful work relationships as well and will be happy to accept these offers.
• Be generous – thoughtful actions of assistance and support, no matter how small, have the potential to provide relief for others and make big impacts in the lives of your colleagues.
• Share food – food is an important part of relationships and can be used as a conversation starter. Introducing your new work friends to snacks or drinks with cultural importance, or a simple cup of tea or coffee to start the day, can put a smile on their faces and encourage sharing of other resources.
In conclusion, workplace friendships facilitate better communication, collaboration, trust and respect among employees, which supports the production of quality work that benefits the organization. Friendships developed in the workplace represent an important part of the organizational work culture and informal social system, which can offer beneficial incentives for employees. As sharing of information, distribution of resources, decision making, strong support and relationships are important for organizations to grow, they are also important for the employees to lead full and healthy lives, and should therefore be encouraged and supported.