Work Friends: How Employee Friendships Boost Engagement and Performance

two male work friend giving each other a high five at work

There is a social aspect within the workplace that the business community doesn’t talk about enough – work friends. As humans, connecting with people on a personal level fulfills a basic need. When we foster these crucial human connections in the workplace, employees experience better job satisfaction and career success while businesses see better engagement, performance, and retention.

Benefits of work friends

When employees create valued friendships with their team members, they are more likely to take positive actions that benefit the organization as a whole – teamwork, engagement, creativity, and empathy are a few examples.

Engagement: There is a strong link between having a best friend at work and the amount of effort employees provide in their job, according to a Gallup study. For example, women who strongly agree they have a best friend at work are more than twice as likely to be engaged (63%) compared with women in the workplace who don’t (29%).

Productivity: Employees do their best when they are comfortable with the people around them, says Inc. In some cases, leadership may hesitate to encourage workplace friendships for fear of constant distractions, but research shows, work friends actually improve employee productivity.

Culture: A positive and inclusive workplace culture is necessary for the health of your employees and the bottom line. Employees with work friends report being in a good mood more often than those without. In turn, coworkers in good moods are more likely to extend their happiness to the rest of their team.

Creativity and innovation: Employees with work friends are more likely to take risks that could lead to innovation. When employees have a friend to listen, give honest feedback, and provide genuine support, they will feel more comfortable expressing their ideas and taking risks.

Business performance: For employees, having a work friend increases performance. Research indicates, if 6 out of 10 employees had a work friend, organizations would experience:

  • 36% fewer safety incidents
  • 7% more engaged customers
  • 12% higher profit

Retention: Work friends provide a better overall employee experience. When team members are happy and satisfied in their roles and future opportunities, they are less likely to be looking for new jobs.

Strategies for employers

Make friendship a core value. Inc. recommends communicating with employees that workplace friendships/ connections are something your organization values. Encourage employees to bring their full selves to work. By sharing their experiences, opinions, hobbies, etc., they will likely find common threads with one another that could blossom into friendship.

Plan team-building activities for employees to get to know one another better and talk about topics not-work related. Doing this at least once per quarter will promote organic workplace friendships. Ideas include happy hour, a team walk or hike, bowling, or a team art class.

Find ways to connect different departments. Broaden employees’ potential friend pool by organizing internal initiatives or projects that involve a variety of departments.

Encouraging workplace friendships within your organization is good for employee engagement, organizational culture, and your bottom line. The time has come for employers to start making workplace friendships a higher priority.