Keeping your professional and personal lives separate is often good advice, but it turns out there might be some advantages to mixing business and pleasure — or at least business and friendship. A new study answers the question of whether you should be friends with your co-workers, and as it turns out, workplace friendships are actually good for workplace productivity. You heard me: Making friends at work might make you better at your job, so it might be a good idea to chat up the people at the water cooler after all. Of course, what this means in a world where so many people work remotely and never actually meet most of their co-workers is a whole separate issue... but that's a topic for another post.
In a new study, which was published in the journal Personnel Psychology, researchers looked at a group of 168 employees at an insurance company and another group of 184 restaurant and retail employees. They found that "the number of multiplex workplace friendships in one's social network" — aka the number of people you're friends with at work — correlates with how well you do at work. Among insurance company employees, people with more friends at work got better job performance ratings from supervisors. Among restaurant and retail workers, more friendships built trust and improved job performance. Who'd have thought?
Researchers found that workplace friendships aren't uniformly positive things, though, when it comes to job performance. Being friends with your co-workers might make you work harder, but it also can be a drain on your mental resources while on the job. Trying to maintain friendships and be emotionally available for your friends while at work can take a lot out of you — and can take some things away from your job performance, too. However, researchers found that overall, the increased productivity that comes with being friends with co-workers outweighs these downsides.
Of course, it's possible that being friends with co-workers isn't actively making people good at their jobs, but rather that people who are already productive are better at befriending co-workers. (After all, correlation is not causation). But it makes sense that people who feel more connected to their office — who see the company they work for as more than just a faceless entity, but rather as a group made up of people they like — would work harder. And it makes sense that people who enjoy being at work would be better at getting their work done. So it's entirely possible that friendships really are making people better at their jobs.
This isn't the first study to find that being friends with your co-workers is a good idea. Studies suggest that having friends at work is important to your happiness and helps you avoid burnout. But there hasn't been as much research on what effect such friendships have on your job, as opposed to just you as a person. But if this new research is anything to go on, it turns out you have nothing to worry about there, either. Making friends with the woman in the next cubicle probably isn't going to tank your job performance and get you fired; in fact, it might even get you promoted.