Oxford Dictionary defines a friend as “a person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically one exclusive of sexual or family relations”. To me, colleagues are akin to my friends because I see them daily for work.
They’re people that we have to spend 40+ hours a week with. They are also people that we have to make time for. Discussing work takes time as well—so, to me, colleagues are my friends.
There are boatloads of articles out there that talk about making friends with colleagues in a bid to create a harmonious workplace. When working with people that we click with, it’s believed that there will usually be less drama.
Since joining a new company, I have subjected myself to a new circle of friends and colleagues, and that got me thinking: Is having friends at work important?
Should You Care About Friendship At Work?
I personally am in the camp of believing that fostering friendships at work will ultimately make work a better place for everyone, so here are my thoughts.
Firstly, having friends at work would create a non-hostile environment. It would be hard to get along with colleagues when you’re constantly challenging each other’s decisions.
Bouncing ideas off each other is also easier when you are fast friends. Not to mention, friends are usually more honest and straightforward when you are pitching ideas or angles. So, if they give criticism, all parties know that it comes from a place of good intention.
In a study done by officevibe, they concluded 58% of men will reject higher-paying jobs if it meant they won’t get along with their coworkers and 74% of the women said the same as well.
With friends in the same office, there will also be a heightened sense of belonging when working together towards the same goal.
But all these are not without disadvantages. Being too close with a colleague who tends to complain about work might create a negative cycle of endless complaints about the boss between workplace pals.
Another major issue of having friends at work is the potential distraction that they could create. This will lead to lowered productivity if they’re constantly distracting you with an endless barrage of questions.
Studies also showed that workplace friendships will prolong break time, and that means less time for work.
Being close to a colleague who tends to not pull their weight and who is known as the lazy one could also bring negative connotations when associated with them by the higher-ups. While it is good to have friends at work, do they actually make someone more productive at work?
Do Friends At Work Improve Productivity?
Most workplaces have targets to hit and KPIs to meet. Some bosses don’t care whether you make friends at work or not, as long as you deliver on the deliverables.
“I’m not here to make friends” is a popular phrase used a lot by TV shows.
Like most things, there are pros and cons to them. Starting with the pros: I personally believe when I am in a happy mood, I tend to be more productive.
Having friends in the workplace who share the same mood will mean improved productivity within the whole team. The quality of work might also increase when you have friends to share your success with.
When you spend time talking to more people, your communication skills can be improved too. This is helpful if the people around you speak in a different language. There’s no better way of learning a language than in person.
Friends at workplaces can also be a pillar of support. When I find myself stuck with a project’s progress, talking things out with my friends will sometimes kick me out of that rut. But as mentioned, there are downsides to it as well.
One of the downsides, in my opinion, is heavy competition. Competition is always good as it strives to make us work better. But when someone is overly competitive, it will often lead to unwanted drama.
If a friend is promoted at work, it could lead to more drama as well. Because if they were in charge of you, the friendship dynamic will change. You might even start to gossip about them to other colleagues.
Having friends in the company might also bring up issues when they leave the company and in turn, leave you unmotivated to work. This could also hinder productivity because it might make you think the grass is greener on the other side.
Drawing The Lines Between Friends/Colleagues
There are key differences between the two, but we tend to think of them as synonymous. A psychiatrist named Marcia Sirota wrote on Linkedin about the importance of knowing the differences between the two.
Personal relationships tend to favour the quality of connection, while professional relationships focus more on the support the other person can give for career advancement.
Mixing the two might give off the wrong impression. For example, being open and straightforward in a personal relationship will build intimacy while being open in a professional relationship might lead to that information being used against you.
While not always the case, we’ve all heard of jealousy in the workplace leading to sabotage with serious consequences, sometimes in the favour of the perpetrator.
Business Times also listed some ways to draw clear boundaries for workplace friendships. One of the steps to take is to treat a colleague like a customer. If it’s something you’re not likely to tell the customer, it’s not something you should reveal to a colleague.
To me, it is important to have that aura of authenticity and approachability for myself at work, but it is also always a good idea to be cautious of what you say so it can’t be used against you.
If friendship is not your thing, having a “work spouse” could improve happiness at work as well and in turn improve productivity.
A work spouse is someone (usually of a different gender than yourself) you spend a lot of time with at work and is someone you can look for support and talk to, without the romantic connotations.
In a survey by OfficePulse, 68% of the participants claim having a work spouse contributes to their happiness at work. The work spouse understands the stress and work that you go through, thus making them the perfect sounding board. They could sometimes even understand you better than your significant other.
Just like everything else in life, striking the balance is never easy. But the evidence for increased productivity can’t be ignored. After all, colleagues are people you sometimes see more than your family.
Personally, I do believe having friends in the workplace increases my productivity because they are people I trust and as a writer, having people to bounce ideas off of is vital for work.
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