Globe and Mail Update
Published on Friday, Mar. 12, 2010 7:00PM EST
â€˜You’ve gotta have friends,â€ as Bette Midler‘s song goes. And that goes for the workplace, too. Having a bosom buddy in the office can go a long way toward making that workday more satisfying â€“ and productive. And workplace friends are all the more important in these times, experts say.
â€œWe are social beings, we needs those connections. Friends provide social support that helps to buffer employees against stress. Friends help employees weather the stress that comes from the threat of downsizing and job insecurity, higher workloads and anxious bosses,â€ said Sandra Robinson, a professor of organizational behaviour at University of British Columbia‘s Sauder School of Business.
More than 38 per cent of American workers have colleagues they consider personal friends, 67 per cent believe that having workplace pals makes their job more fun and enjoyable, while 55 per cent say work friends make their job worthwhile and satisfying, according to a new poll of 1,017 employees by Ipsos Reid for staffing firm Randstad U.S.
Having a pal at work can boost employees’ energy and enthusiasm, provide an ally and fulfill emotional needs so much that they look forward to going to work, Prof. Robinson said. â€œAnd they’ll come in early and stay late if they find work more enjoyable.â€
It’s good for the employer, too: Workplace friendships boost teamwork, morale, communication, motivation, productivity and commitment to the company, and lower turnover, the Randstad survey found.
But as with any relationship, there are pitfalls to befriending your colleagues. If conflicts arise, you still have to work together, said Antoinette Blunt, president of Ironside Consulting Services Inc., a human resources consultancy in Sault Ste Marie, Ont.
Dealing with issues such as favouritism, gossip, conflicts of interest, blurring boundaries, oversocializing and cliques can make office friendships tricky, Ms. Blunt said. â€œAnd a falling out with a friend can have a huge negative impact.â€
Sharing a tight office space could have been a disaster, but it was one of the best things that happened to Linsey Nogueira and Erin Manning, employees of Ketchum Public Relations Canada in Toronto.
â€œYou get to know someone quite quickly when you can just turn your chair around and talk. We bonded. We have similar backgrounds, we’re around the same age, went to the same PR school and have similar personalities. We became friends,â€ Ms. Manning said.
While the two had pals in common, they didn’t know each other until Ms. Manning joined Ketchum about five years ago, a year after Ms. Nogueira started. The shared office space was a happy coincidence that lasted for about 18 months, until the company moved into new quarters and they got their own offices, but the friendship is still going strong.
The two regularly meet over lunch, and often check in with each other throughout the day on both work and non-work-related issues.
â€œIt certainly makes it more enjoyable to come to work and have someone here who understands you and the office and the stresses of everyday life. Erin is honest and funny and supportive. And we trust each other,â€ Ms. Nogueira said.
There’s also comfort in knowing that someone has your back, Ms. Manning added. â€œWho wouldn’t want to work with someone who is also a close friend?â€
The two agree that trust and respect are a big part of their friendship. And that makes for a safe environment in which they can confide in each other without worrying that it will end up feeding the office rumour mill, says Ms. Nogueira.
But the mates are careful not to let their friendship distract them from the work that needs to be done. â€œWe’re still professionals, we have clients and teams that rely on us. We realize we still have to do our jobs,â€ says Ms. Manning.
How would Ms. Manning feel if Ms. Nogueira left Ketchum? â€œI’d be devastated. I know that life goes on and the reality is we won’t always work together, but it would be sad not to see Linsey’s face here each day.â€
HOW WORKERS SEE IT
The up side of workplace friendships
Creates a more supportive and friendly environment 70 per cent
Increases teamwork 69 per cent
Increases knowledge sharing and open communication 50 per cent
Higher job satisfaction 45 per cent
Makes employees more motivated 36 per cent
Reduces employee turnover 36 per cent
Creates a stronger commitment to the organization 32 per cent
Increases employee engagement 31 per cent
Increases productivity 30 per cent
The down side of workplace friendships
Feeds gossip 44 per cent
Create favouritism 37 per cent
Blurs professional boundaries 37 per cent
May cause others to feel uncomfortable 26 per cent
Reduces productivity 22 per cent
Reduces constructive feedback or openness 19 per cent
Source: Ipsos Reid/Randstad U.S., 2010 survey of 1,017 American workers
MANAGING OFFICE FRIENDSHIPS
1. Take it slowly. It takes time to develop trusting relationships with colleagues.
2. Set boundaries. Refrain from revealing characteristics and details about your personal life, which could haunt you later.
3. Be professional. Try to remain fair and objective in all your workplace activities and decisions. Remember your work has to triumph over friendship.
4. Keep a lid on workplace socializing. Don’t turn a brief water-cooler chat into a marathon gab session. Limit cubicle banter that could distract and irritate others. Save those conversations for lunch or drinks after work.
5. Be inclusive . If you’re going for coffee or lunch with a co-worker, consider inviting others to join you.
Source: Sandra Robinson, professor of organization behaviour at University of British Columbia’s Sauder’s School of Business, and Antoinette Blunt, president of Ironside Consulting Services Inc.
Percentage of employees who say they have colleagues they consider personal friends with whom they interact inside and outside of work
Percentage of workers who describe their socializing with co-workers as strictly workplace friendships
Percentage of workers who say their work friendships are a matter of necessity or convenience
Percentage of workers who say having friends at work makes their job more fun and enjoyable
Percentage of employees who say friends at work make their job more worthwhile and satisfying.
Percentage of managers who say they encourage the development of workplace friendships
Percentage of workers who feel their workplace supports workplace friendships
Percentage of workers who say they would sweep a friend’s mistake at work under the rug
Percentage who said that if a friend at work were laid off, it would affect their decision to stay with the company.
Percentage of managers who said productivity improves when co-workers are friends outside of the office.
Sources: Ipsos Reid/Randstad U.S., 2010 survey of 1,017 American workers; Accountemps, 2007 survey of 150 U.S. senior managers
HOW COMPANIES CAN HELP SPARK WORKPLACE FRIENDSHIPS
1. Provide opportunities for employees to connect with each other formally and informally by hosting interdepartmental activities, for example, or offering mentoring opportunities and social functions.
2. Create an environment that encourages socializing; set up conversation areas where staff can chat.
3. Don’t automatically squelch cubicle chit-chat. As long as employees get the work done, give them a little leeway for fraternizing.
4. Encourage playfulness. Let employees decorate their cubicles, play the occasional foosball game and otherwise joke, laugh and have fun. Social play often leads to stronger friendships among staff.
Source: Sandra Robinson, professor of organization behaviour at UBC’s Sauder’s School of Business Special to The Globe and Mail