Having A Work "Frenemy" Improves Your Job Performance, According To Research


I've never been more disappointed in all of my co-workers for being such inconveniently awesome people than I am right now, because according to new research published in the Harvard Business Review, having a work frenemy might improve your job performance. In light of this, I would like to personally un-thank all of my co-workers for not sucking. I could have reached my full potential in life if one of you had had the foresight to be mean to me, but the worst any of y'all has ever done is steal my office mug. WEAK, GUYS. WEAK.

Now, I know you are slightly suspicious that this research was fabricated by that jerk Mike in accounting who has it in for you, but it turns out the frenemy fringe benefits are a real thing. Shimul Melwani, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says that her role in the research was inspired by actual events. “There was this person I constantly discussed,” said Melwani. “I came home and would talk about them all the time: This person did this terrible thing, but they also did this other wonderful thing!”

And lo, this study was born. To analyze the effect of "love-hate relationships" in the work place, the researchers ran two studies analyzing three different types of relationships: positive, ambivalent (or "love-hate"), and negative. To establish the relationships, participants engaged by asking each other questions. The positive group asked each other only positive questions, the negative group only negative questions, while the ambivalent group started with positive questions and then started asking undermining ones — and essentially, a ~frenemy~ was born.

They were then all given a task: to edit a piece of work they were led to believe was something their partner had written. The frenemy group outperformed both the positive and negative group, and ultimately researchers found that they were more motivated and more likely to take on each other's perspectives in completing the task.

There are several factors that might explain this result — primary among them being that if you're in a relationship where you're not sure where you stand, you will inevitably spend more time thinking about it than you would with anyone else. You are more likely to try and anticipate or be more sensitive to their words and actions. You even feel a little more empathetic toward them than you do to other people, because you're so unintentionally honed in. And on the opposite end, you are more likely to try and best them yourself, fostering an air of competition that isn't as intense in positive or negative work relationships.

NYMag does a beautiful job of summing it all up in this video here:

New York Magazine on YouTube

So take a a day, everyone. Go thank the Dwight to your Jim, the Jeremy Jamm to your Leslie Knope, the Emily to your Andy. Psych 'em out by buying them a cup of coffee and mentioning that their shoes are untied. Imply that their desk looks sloppy and give 'em a thumbs up at the watercooler. Engage in the emotional warfare of work politics, for the betterment of human kind!

If anybody needs me I'm going to be shucking an entire box of cookies off my co-worker's desk with my arm and then fist-bumping her BECAUSE I CARE, DAMMIT.