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What do workplace friendships play in enhanced work performance?


What is your view on workplace friendships? There are those who think having friends at work is detrimental to people and the company, while others think the contrary. If you are having mixed feelings about it, this article will explore the different insights on whether the benefits of workplace friendships are worth its cons. 

What is workplace friendship? 

There are several definitions of workplace friendship. According to Berman et. al, 2022, it is “a non-exclusive, spontaneous relationship” that has its foundation on common interest, similar values and trust. 

Dobel in 2001, on the other hand, describes workplace friendship as an exchange that has  social, emotional and helping functions and that forms an informal, close and optional connection between employees. 

The types of workplace friendships

A group of researchers published a study on the impact of workplace friendships on employees’ commitment to their company and their intention to leave. Their study brought them first to classify the different kinds of friendships that exist in the workplace.

1. Workplace best friend. This is a platonic relationship between co-workers who have developed a very close bond. It is expressed as being fully open to disclose all things and to talk about any topic because there is mutual trust and respect. They are always ready to help one another. 

2. Workplace close friend. They have not reached the level of workplace best friends, but they are close. There is a big possibility that they will continue to be friends after they leave their workplace. It is likely that they would spend time with each other after work. 

3. Workplace friend. It is also a platonic relationship similar to a workplace friend. They might continue their friendly relationship outside work, but there is little openness to share about personal matters. They can talk about light topics during break time. 

4. Co-worker acquaintance. This is a person whom you see and know at work, but you do not have a friendly relationship with. You may acknowledge each other’s presence by a smile, a hi,  or a nod when you see each other outside work.

Studies about workplace friendships and how they enhance workplace performance

Several studies support the idea that having friends at work helps to make the working environment supportive. A sense of belonging and connection is formed and strengthened.

Having workplace best friends increases workers’ concern for each other, ready to lend a helping hand, thus decreasing risks for accidents and harm.

A positive workplace also increases job satisfaction and overall happiness, and decreases stress. Studies have also demonstrated that it increases creativity and innovation. 

In a recent study on why employees leave, it turns out that 6 out of 10 employees leave their company because of toxic workplaces. This supports the insight that when workplaces are more positive, employees stay and become more productive. 

The challenges of workplace friendships

However, it seems that workplace friendships are a paradox, as they  also come with risks. Several studies show that when friendships become problematic, they can be a source of harmful gossip, harassment, favoritism, conflict of interest, and reduced loyalty to the company. It can even negatively affect productivity. 

How can there be a balance between workplace friendships and work outcomes? 

Researchers recommend that knowing and practicing boundaries in the workplace allows employees to maintain the benefits of workplace friendships, while also maintaining professional integrity.

It requires individuals and groups to assess how their friendships are beneficial to everyone. This includes talking about boundaries openly, identifying and avoiding behaviors that exclude and harm others. 

In the end, the workplace is one of our sources of social and emotional connections, and it is beneficial that we form healthy workplace relationships. 

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What do workplace friendships play in enhanced work performance?
Brandon Resasco