Making friends at work may seem like a trivial pursuit, but work friendships actually have a substantial impact on your work life. More than 80 percent of American workers experience stress on the job, with women more susceptible to excess tension than their male counterparts. Work friendships could mean the difference between job satisfaction and job burnout. Many studies show that social connections in the workplace boost productivity, inspire employees and encourage company loyalty.
A study published in the Journal of Business Psychology showed that even the opportunity for workplace friendship increased job satisfaction and organizational effectiveness among employees. The study was led by Christine M. Riordan, provost and professor of management at the University of Kentucky, and determined that strong workplace camaraderie was an essential factor in workplace happiness for both men and women.
That camaraderie, Riordan explains, is more than just having fun with people. Riordan also cites a 2012 Gallup report in which 50 percent of surveyed employees with a best friend in the workplace stated that they felt a strong connection with their company, compared to only 10 percent of employees who did not have a best friend at work.
Many critics of workplace friendships argue that the line between professional and personal relationships should not be crossed. Forbes writer Susannah Breslin argues that female friendships in particular should not have a central place in professional lives. Breslin states that forging workplace friendships is one of three ways women undermine themselves on the job. "My guess is that if you ask most men, they won't say they work to 'make friends,'" says Breslin. "But sometimes it seems like that's a big part of what women are doing at work. Bonding."
Still, the evidence of the positive effects of workplace friendships, on both men and women, continues to build. "Many employers do not fully understand just how impactful healthy friendships on the job are for improving overall workforce profitability," says Jim Meyerle, cofounder of Evolv, a data analytics company. More than one in three adults has met at least one of their closest friends at work, according to a 2013 State of Friendship report. This is as beneficial to corporate bottom-line goals as it is for employee morale, notes Meyerle.
One way to develop workplace friendships while protecting your professional life is to keep things separate. Try not to spend too much time talking about your personal life with your work friends; keep things light and spread it around. Also, avoid complaining about your mutual boss: this is never a good thing to do, because it may cause tension by dragging your newfound work friend into the conflict.
Building work friendships is an excellent way to remain motivated and inspired at work. Social interaction is a natural human need, so it makes sense that strong relationships at work results in more professional success, both on the job and beyond. With a positive, open and friendly attitude, developing work friendships should come naturally.
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