Feb 3, 2021 - Economy & Business

Why your "work bestie" matters

Illustration of two mugs, one with the word "best" and the other with the word "friends" on their sides
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Here's an essential element of the pandemic workplace: a best friend.

Why it matters: Studies have shown that having friendships at work can boost happiness and productivity. And cultivating these close relationships is even more important now as lockdowns and isolation worsen workplace burnout across America.

"The research is extremely clear that having friends at work has benefits," says Marissa King of the Yale School of Management. "We get our sense of purpose and our intrinsic sense of motivation through relationships."

  • Having one or two close friends at work makes people engage more with their tasks and the broader mission of their companies. And it makes them less likely to quit, King says.
  • According to a study by author and researcher Tom Rath, people with close work friends were 96% more likely to say they felt "extremely satisfied with life."
  • And during the pandemic, when people have so little choice over how they work or where they work, being able to control who our work friends and confidants are can be a big source of comfort, King tells me.

There can be different perks of work friendships.

  • For example, befriending someone in a different department could boost creativity by exposing you to new ideas.
  • Making friends with a peer on your team could be a healthy way to vent or solve work problems.

But, but, but: Despite their benefits, work friendships are still relatively uncommon in corporate America.

  • The average American has five friends at work, but the majority of these relationships are surface-level. Only 15% say they have a "real friend" in the office, King writes in her book, "Social Chemistry."
  • And women and people of color often find it even harder to cultivate work friendships, notes King. Women are more likely to miss out on after-work drinks or lunches because they've got other responsibilities like child care. And people of color are more likely to simply be excluded from such gatherings.

Worth noting: There are of course downsides to work friendships. Any sort of personal relationship at work can get complicated when issues like performance evaluations or promotions come up.

  • Says King, "When boundaries get blurred, you feel forced to make a choice of, 'Am I loyal to a person or am I loyal to my work?'"
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