You Should Have a Best Friend at Work

Conventional wisdom seems to suggest that the workplace is not a place for good friendships. One’s work life and personal life are best kept separate.

But as Tom Rath shows in his excellent book Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without, research by the Gallup organization over the last several years has revealed that friendships at work are actually a critical component of employee engagement and a healthy work environment.

In other words, if you have a best friend at work, you are likely to be more effective in your work, and your organization is thus going to be better off as well. Workplace friendships are an important factor in overall organizational success.

This can actually be quantified. Rath points out that a mere 30% of employees report having a best friend at work. But “if you are fortunate enough to be in this group, you are seven times as likely to be engaged in your job” (p. 53).

Seven times more likely to be engaged in your job. That is huge!

In fact, Rath continues, “our results also suggest that people without a best friend at work all but eliminate their chances of being engaged during the work day.”

Note that the Gallup findings pertain to those with a best friend at work, and not just friends in general. This difference is critical. For their early research indicated that “having a ‘best friend’ at work — rather than just a ‘friend’ or even a ‘good friend’ — was a more powerful predictor of workplace outcomes. Apparently, the term ‘friend’ by itself had lost most of its exclusivity (p. 52)”

Here are some other findings from their research:

  • People without a best friend at work have only a 1 in 12 chance of being engaged in their job.
  • People with at least 3 close friends at work are 96% more likely to be extremely satisfied with their life.
  • Closer friendships at work can increase satisfaction with your company by nearly 50%.

What conclusions should we draw from this?

Organizations that discourage close relationships in the workplace “could be making a costly mistake.” Friendships are a critical part of a healthy workplace, and organizations should take steps to encourage their cultivation. This is first of all good for employees, and second of all it will be better for the organization. Organizations need to recognize that creating an environment that encourages the development of friendships at work is a key part of solving the problem of employee disengagement.

Rath concludes in this way:

While most companies spend their time thinking about how to increase an employee’s loyalty to their organization, our results suggest they might want to try a different approach: fostering the kind of loyalty that is built between one employee and another.

  • Jon Smith

    Great post, Matt. We actually conducted the Gallup Q12 at our company recently to measure our employee engagement. This was a question that some people answered with a low score because they believe you can only have one “best” friend. Very interesting.
    I agree with Rath and all of the stats. Those who have a best friend at work are our best, most engaged employees by far.

  • Matt

    Jon: Helpful to hear. We haven’t done the Q12 yet but I would like to soon. I’d love to hear more details on how the Q12 went and what you’ve learned through that. I might jot you a note to hear more.

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