The Case For Being Friends With Your Co-Workers

It’s a common rule for many people: “I don’t take friends home from work.” But in a piece over at Quartz and highlighted at Science of Us, writer Catherine Baab-Muguira makes the case for being friends with your co-workers — and honestly, it’s a pretty good one. Even if you’ve been advised time and time again not to get too friendly with your colleagues in order to keep that professional line clearly drawn, it might be worth considering the alternative.

For what it’s worth, I do understand the case for not taking friends home from work. One of the downsides to living in the age of the internet is that the lines between our work lives and our personal lives tend to blur a lot more now — for example, not only do we have access to our work email outside of office hours, we’re often expected to check and respond to our work email outside of office hours, too. It’s getting to be a problem; research has found that folks whose employers expect them to deal with their work email even when they’re not at work are more likely to suffer from emotional exhaustion and higher levels of anticipatory stress.

With these lines getting increasingly unclear, it’s understandable that you might want to try to keep them distinct in whatever ways you can — and one thing that you do have control over is whether you hang out with the same people all day at the office, and all the time when you’re not at work, too.

That said, though, Baab-Muguira lays out a compelling argument for having at least one friend at work. Writing about a “small, tight-knit group enrolled in a year-long training program,” she notes:

The program itself was interesting and worthwhile — a deep dive into stock-market analysis — but the reason I loved it was the hang. We studied together, collaborated on projects, and went to happy hour to hash it all out. There was always someone who wanted to go out for lunch or grab a coffee or tell me about a book I should read. The competitive elements of the job were enjoyable, enlivening rather than soul-killing, because everyone got along so well. Going to work was, for the most part, fun.

Indeed, she writes, “This situation was compelling enough it shaped my next couple of career moves, which were internal rather external; despite some occasionally tempting offers to leave, I’ve stayed with the company.”

This, of course, is an example of the whole thing going very, very right; if, however, you happen to work in a dysfunctional or toxic workplace, then yeah, you’ll probably want to keep as much distance between it and the rest of your life as you can. But if you work in a place that might be conducive to getting friendly with your co-workers, there’s plenty of research to back up why it might be a good idea to give it a shot. Consider the following:

You Enjoy Your Job More When You’re Friends With Your Colleagues

In 2010, the Randstand Work Watch survey found that for 67 percent of people, having friends at work made their job more fun, while for 55 percent, work friends made their job more satisfying. Makes sense, right? Time actually does fly when you’re having fun, according to a 2016 study published in the journal Science — so if you spend all day with people you like, it’s likely to make the time more enjoyable and seem to fly by faster, even if you’re at work while you're doing it.

You’re More Productive When You Have Work Friends

Researchers at the Universities of Pennsylvania and Minnesota found in 2014 that students completing group projects ultimately did better work when they were working with their friends versus working with acquaintances. The friends were both more invested in the project and better at communicating with each other; the acquaintances, meanwhile, were more likely to work alone and didn’t trade feedback with their group members, which meant that they weren’t able to play to each other’s strengths. The lesson here: The better you know someone, the better you'll be able to work together.

You Learn More When You’re Having Fun

As Cari Romm points out in a discussion of Baab-Muguira’s piece over at Science of Us, research has shown that when you have fun at work, you also tend to learn more —and nothing makes work fun like hanging out with your friends. Romm points to a study published in early 2017 in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, which asked 200 managers to answer two surveys six months apart: The first asked about the number of “fun” activities that occurred at their workplace (think happy hours, competitions, etc.), while the second was about “informal learning”— that is, “self-reflection, experimenting with new ways of performing work,interacting with others, and reading job-relevant material.” The results? Learning from others, from articles in print and online, and in informal situations correlated with fun activities — or, as Science of Us put it at the time, fun things were found to be “powerful drivers of knowledge.

If having more friends at work means you have more fun at work, and having more fun at work means you learn more at work… well, you can see how it all fits together, right?

It Helps You Have Awesome ideas

Baab-Muguira notes, “Good ideas come out of idle chatter; like me, you’ve probably had the experience in which a friend starts yarning and as you listen, you arrive at a solution to a problem — painlessly.” That’s generally been my experience, as well; indeed, some of my favorite essays have come out of chats with my co-workers. Consider, for example, an “unpopular opinion” piece I wrote about the Sorting Hat last year — that one arose from a conversation I had with Bustle’s Web Culture Editor, Emma Lord. I realize that not everyone has the kind of job where deep thoughts about Harry Potter are a legitimately productive use of your time; I'm fortunate that I do, though, and the fact remains that without that chat with that particular co-worker, I probably wouldn’t have written that essay.

It Benefits Your Workplace

According to Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace report, two in 10 United States employees responded that they agree strongly with the statement, “I have a best friend at work.” But, argues the organization, “by moving that ratio to six in 10 employees, organizations could realize 36 percent fewer safety incidents, seven percent more engaged customers, and 12 percent higher profit.” So, basically, everybody wins when you make friends at work.

If having friends at work really isn’t your thing, then of course do whatever is right for you. If you’re up for it, though, it might be worth asking your cubicle neighbor to grab a coffee after work — you never know what possibilities might emerge as a result.

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