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Workplace Friendships are Good for Business

It doesn’t sound groundbreaking to say we are happier when we have friends. But it’s more than just happiness. Research finds that people with more friends also live longer. This doesn’t stop at the office door: workplace friendships create a company culture that keeps employees happy.

Why are workplace friendships good for business?

Humans have a “need to belong”, which is comparable to our needs for rest, food, and water. Our brains are so wired to prioritize social connection, so much so that social rejection activates the same regions of our brain as physical pain (fun fact: Tylenol can literally help a broken heart). 

A lack of friends may not kill us in quite the same way as a lack of food will, but it clearly negatively impacts our mental and physical health, which will reduce our engagement and effectiveness in the workplace.

What are the implications for the workplace?

Given that we spend a significant portion of our lives in the workplace, it is unsurprising that our “need to belong” matters there as well. A recent survey found that workers who don’t feel they have at least one friend in the workplace don’t perform as well in their jobs. This is heightened in work environments that have particularly stressful social interactions (e.g. nurses, teachers, front-line service workers), where workplace friendships are critical for coping.

How can managers promote workplace friendships to foster a beneficial company culture?

  1. Prioritize teamwork. Research has shown that working together towards a common goal has a unique power to bind people together. When employees really rely on one another, they will have the sorts of close, personal interactions that build workplace friendships. Managers can play a crucial role in building the company culture and dynamics that tend towards supportive, mission-focused friendships (“we’re all in this together”), rather than the factional unity of joint stress (“us vs. them”). Competition may seem like a great way to fuel productivity. However, the more your employees feel they are competing with one another, the less they view each other as friends.
  2. Model the behavior. Show – don’t just tell – your employees how you want them to treat each other. How you treat the people you have authority over speaks volumes. Consider how you give employees negative feedback. Negative feedback hurts, in part, because it suggests social rejection is coming. To minimize defensive reactions, such as this perceived social rejection, managers should be sure to emphasize a person’s value to the team, and the belief that they can succeed at this task. 

Fostering workplace friendships is truly a test of the critical soft skills of management. Do your managers have the correct mix of concern and directness? Find out with Cangrade’s AI-driven pre-hire assessment, which identifies the traits your managers need to manage most effectively and suggests development opportunities to help managers flourish and build a company culture where employees can rely upon one another to deliver.