The benefits of having friends at work

Having friends could make your working life more productive and fulfilling, while increasing your business network at the same time
by Bethan Rees


The Beatles may not have been singing about workplace friendships when they sang “I get by with a little help from my friends”, but we do all need somebody to chat to during the working day. Friendships at work can be beneficial not only for your enjoyment of the office, but also your performance at work.

In an article for The Muse, Stacey Lastoe writes: “A few minutes of non-work related banter can be viewed as a distracting force, or it can be seen as an engagement-enhancing break … Think about it: when you’re in good spirits, you’re likely to find it easier to complete your to-do list – from the tedious, mundane tasks to the ones that require more creative energy.”

An infographic by Officevibe, which provides companies with engagement tools, showcases research on the topic, and how important having friends at work is to respondents. Statistics include:

  • 70% say having friends at work is the most crucial element to a happy working life
  • 74% of women would refuse a higher paying job if it meant not getting along with co-workers – 58% of men say the same
  • One in three adults have met at least one of their closest friends at work

Improving productivity and creativity

“Millennials are often criticised for blurring the lines between work relationship and personal relationships. They are the first to organise a happy hour after work for their peers … it turns out if they manage to develop close friendships, their productivity and performance improve,” writes Kaytie Zimmerman in an article for Forbes. She references a Gallup Poll, which states that respondents who have a best friend at work are “43% more likely to report having received recognition and praise for their work in the last week”. 

A study conducted across multiple companies by a group of professors, led by Jessica Methot of Rutgers University, finds that having co-workers as friends can be emotionally draining but overall increases productivity, according to an article for Harvard Business Review by David Burkus. “Workplace friends influence performance over and above purely instrumental or pure friendship-based relationships,” the study says, as reported by Brukus.  

In an article for PayScale, a software and data company, Gina Belli echoes this, writing: “First, it might seem that having friends at work could make us less productive. Maybe we’ll clown around when we should be working (or even goof off during a meeting) but that’s not necessarily the case."

She adds that having friends at work can make you more creative, as they can make you more relaxed, putting you in the right state of mind to be more innovative and “heighten your problem-solving skills”.

Spending your life at work

For most of us, the daylight hours are spent at work. “You see your co-workers more than you see your partner and family,” writes Allison Renner in an article for Lifehack. “If you’re not close with anyone at work, it would make all of that time intolerable. Seeing a friendly face will make the time pass more quickly than if you’re isolated in your cubicle.”

However, it arguably goes deeper than this, according to Emma Seppälä PhD, author of The Happiness Track and co-director of the Yale College Emotional Intelligence Project, and Marissa King PhD, professor of organisational behaviour at the Yale School of Management. In an article for Harvard Business Review, Seppälä and King point to research that shows that “belonging is a fundamental human need”.

They report: “Given we spend between eight and nine hours of our day at work (not including commute time), we have significantly less time to fulfil our social needs outside of work. When we’re not working, we’re either dealing with family, errands, or trying to grab some rest when we can. The workplace, where we spend such a large portion of our time, is an ideal place to foster the positive connections we all need.”  

Creating connections

While you might think of networking as a formal business action at a conference, for example, having friends at work is an easy way to expand your business connections. Belli says “your work friends are your network. They’re actually the most powerful facet of your network. They know you. They know your strengths, your passions and where you’re hoping to go.” Belli says that your career could benefit from the social connections you make in the workplace and that “recent estimates suggest that up to 40% of founding start-up teams knew each other socially”.

Support system

How do you feel at the end of the day? In the Lifehack article mentioned above, Renner says “you might already have a built-in support system in your partner or family, but do you really want to spend your time off the clock talking about work?” Instead, talk to your colleagues about work issues – they might be able to empathise more as they understand your job. “Having a friend going through similar things helps because you won’t have to explain as much each time you start a story. They already know what you’re going through, who you’re dealing with, and will have valuable suggestions for how you can solve problems and accomplish goals,” writes Renner.

So when it’s been a hard day’s night and you’ve been working like a dog, how much do you rely on your work friends? Leave your comments below.

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Published: 13 Mar 2020
  • Soft Skills
  • The Review
  • Career Development
  • friendship
  • Productivity
  • networking
  • leadership
  • Career advice

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