The Ins and Outs of Workplace Friendships

It’s no doubt that human beings are social animals. We hear it all the time - about our constant craving for human interaction. Today, we are more wired for connection more than we’ve ever been, a result of 250 million years of evolution guiding us in that direction, according to UCLA professor Matthew Lieberman. So how does this need for connecting with others pan out in the workplace, where there’s oh so many things at play?

One thing’s for sure - we’re not doing our best to help create opportunities for employees to connect on a deeper level. In a study by Pew and the American Life Project, just 12% of respondents’ closest ties were with people from their professional life. So what’s going on with workplace friendships and what can we do to make a better employee experience?

Friendships at work are crucial

Let’s not inhibit human nature now! It completely makes sense to foster relationships at work, since that’s what we’re wired to do. Friendships and connections at work are key to creating a positive employee experience. They are linked to increased job satisfaction, engagement, performance, and team unity. A LinkedIn survey found 46% of respondents indicated having friends at work tend to make them more productive.

The need for familiarity and belonging are intrinsically tied to how we behave with our work.

Workplace connections can be tricky

Because of the dynamics of being in a professional environment, where at the end of the day you’re competing for promotions and chasing good performance, it can be difficult to make genuine friendships at work.

The evidence that workplace friendships may not be as healthy as they could be is here: a daunting 68% percent of millennials said they would sacrifice a friendship with a colleague if it meant getting a promotion, according to a LinkedIn study. The competitive nature of carrying out a career can sometimes be in conflict with making genuine friends.

Also making too many friends at work can be detrimental. A study found that while employees with larger networks at work reaped the benefits of faster promotions, they also reported feeling emotionally exhausted with their work. Keeping in touch with too many people at work can make it difficult to prioritize relationships on top of already existing work responsibilities.

So how do we make the most out of workplace friendships? These are some tips for creating more meaningful connections amongst your teams, while avoiding some of the downfalls:

  • Craft opportunities for employees to connect on a personal level outside of the workplace paradigm to break down the barrier of competition

  • Talk to your employees about how they want to get to know each other (over a beer? Volunteer events?)

  • Plan ahead of time for social experiences that don’t disrupt the normal flow of work

  • Have teams collaborate on events so they feel like they’re part of the fun planning (and ultimately increase their commitment to making it a great one)

There’s been a trend towards loneliness lately. Although we have increased amounts of connection through social media platforms, the feeling of being connected has more to do with what you expect out of your social relationships. If your current relationships aren’t quite cutting it, you may feel disconnected even though you’re still putting yourself out there and socializing a bunch. Yes, workplace friendships are crucial to driving good culture. And of course, they can be tricky to navigate in a professional setting. But positive company cultures can do so much to fuel human connection in a world that’s increasingly becoming distant.

Looking to foster connection and friendship in your organization? Schedule a demo with Five to Nine and manage culture-building opportunities at ease.

Pedro Suarez