When you spend one-third of every weekday in the same place with the same people, you’re bound to make a few connections that are as personal as they are professional. Office friendships represent a unique type of social interaction, but one that is crucial to employee happiness and retention.
While the received wisdom may say socializing at work leads to low productivity and other problems, the benefits of encouraging office friendships far outweigh the negatives. Given that 82 percent of respondents to a survey from Olivet Nazarene University have at least one friend at work, it doesn’t seem like fighting against the trend would be in the best interests of a company anyway.
The Benefits of Encouraging Office Socialization
Let’s be clear: Your employees are not children. You cannot tell them whom they are allowed to be friends with, and trying to stifle office friendships and social interactions will only backfire, pushing your top talent right out the door. The bulk of employees understand they are at work to do a job and will limit their social time without an intervention from their employer.
In fact, two-thirds of survey respondents said they spend less than 30 minutes per day talking with friends about subjects unrelated to work. Furthermore, one-third said their workplace friendships actually made them more productive, not less. Friendships in the office typically serve as a means of stress relief during slow periods or breaks, not an excuse to do less work.
“Based on our research, we believe the best thing to do is support what’s natural — the forming of friendships — and then monitor for any problem areas, such as too much socializing, cliques, or interpersonal conflicts,” says Ryan Spittal, vice president for Olivet Nazarene University Global. “In other words, expect the best in people and then be vigilant about problem areas. Our data clearly shows that friendships occur in the workplace, and that Americans seem to have a keen ability to keep those friendships professional and productive.”
Will You Be My Friend?
Certain industries and job types lend themselves to the development of friendships with coworkers. Turnover rates, amount of collaborative work, and the formality of the office all play a role in nurturing or discouraging workplace friendships as well.
“One significant value of this study is it gives HR professionals a relative sense of how common work friendships are in different fields,” says Spittal. “That way, if they believe in the value of work friendships, they can identify whether or not their industry is one that tends to need some support, [like] a structure that catalyzes more social bonds. It also provides HR professionals some benchmarks for when they survey their teams. They can ask people how many of their coworkers they consider true friends and immediately know how their organization stacks up [against others in the field].”
If you’re personally looking for a job that’ll make you the most friends at work, you should make a career change into transportation: Workers in this field report having the highest number of work friends, with an average of 10, according to the survey. Lawyers and paralegals may be out of luck, however: Employees in the legal field only report an average of three work friends.
“One might presume that retail workers have more friends since it’s relatively casual work, and in many places there’s a lot of space for talking and hanging out,” says Spittal. “However, the high turnover rates in retail really work against that. As another example, compare marketing and advertising to real estate: People working in the former report more than double the number of friends [than the latter]. Perhaps this is because the work is very team-oriented and collaborative [in marketing] versus real estate, where agents are out on their own a lot or with clients who are temporary and transient.”
The survey also shows that work friendships support retention efforts. Employees with a lot of close friends at work will hesitate to leave a company without a very good reason. If they enjoy their job enough, they may even try to recruit their friends to the company, as 59 percent of survey respondents claim to have done. Ultimately, encouraging office friendships can have a demonstrable positive impact on the company’s recruitment and retention efforts.