With the rise of workplace perks like unlimited paid vacation and flexible work-from-home policies, it would be fair to assume freedom and autonomy are of utmost importance to today’s workers.
But in a survey of San Diego’s top workplaces, happy employees were more likely to report that people — colleagues, mentors, bosses or workplace friends — were the reason they loved their work.
Relationships with colleagues have always played a role in workplace satisfaction, but experts say it’s possible these office relationships are more critical today than they once were.
Thanks to the technology-fueled modern lifestyle, people are experiencing more social isolation than years past. With younger generations, church has fallen out of style, dinner parties have died, and neighbors are just strangers who live next door. Human interaction is even being removed from daily life tasks like ordering lunch and shopping for groceries. A new feature of the Uber app even lets riders request that their drivers not speak to them at all.
For many adults, that leaves one daily institution for them to form social bonds: the workplace. And employers should take note, because these social connections could be a meaningful contributor to worker performance, satisfaction and retention.
What happens when you have friends at work?
There’s an extensive body of research dating back to the 1980s that shows workplace friendships reduce turnover and absenteeism, as well as boosting feelings of job security, comfort and job satisfaction. Employees with friends at work also tend to engage in altruistic behaviors by providing co-workers with help, guidance, advice or feedback with various work-related matters.
Peer-reviewed research published in the journal American Psychologist also suggests that companies can benefit from such friendships, as these workers help each other and communicate well. Both of these behaviors can increase effort and production.
Miriam Kirmayer, a therapist and friendship researcher at McGill University, said all workers need and value human connection in the workplace.
“Blurring the boundaries between your personal life and your work life might be more comfortable for younger generations, but the need for social connection is universal,” Kirmayer said.
She noted that older generations may actually feel the change of modern living — and the ensuing isolation — more acutely because they’ve benefited from social groups in the past. And they know what they’re missing.
While social bonds at work can be a boon for retention and employee satisfaction, some employers still feel a need to establish boundaries among workers. A 2007 study reported that friendships at work can lead to difficulties for management and negative emotions if friendships turn bitter.
Kirmayer, who works with corporations as a consultant, said issues can come up if friendships are threatened by changing hierarchies.
“An opportunity for promotions can create issues within friendships who were formerly at a similar level,” Kirmayer said. “We feel at risk of losing the friendship, or the boundaries can be blurred.”
Boston Herald, November 25, 2019