Are Friendships the Key to Workplace Happiness?

friends-at-workEditor's note: This is a guest post from Eileen Habelow, senior vice president of organizational development for Randstad.

A recently published Conference Board study found that only 45 percent of Americans are satisfied with their jobs.  While the causes of dissatisfaction may be many, it doesn’t seem to be rooted in the person we sit across from in cubicleland.  In fact, a new Randstad Work Watch survey reveals that American workers seem to be happier at their jobs because of the friendships they cultivate with coworkers – 67 percent reported having friends at work makes their job more fun and enjoyable and 55 percent feel that these relationships make their job more worthwhile and satisfying.

But not all workplace friendships seem to be created equal as the survey also found that people characterize their professional relationships in a variety of ways, from personal friends with whom they interact inside and outside of work (38 percent) to friendships limited to the workplace and workplace functions (32 percent) to even friendships cultivated out of sheer necessity or convenience for work purposes or alliances (17 percent).

Positive Work Culture

Whatever the category or reason for these friendships, Americans seem to be viewing workplace friendships as possessing more benefits than risks.  Interestingly, the top responses from the survey aligned more to workplace culture: a more creative and friendly workplace (70 percent); increases teamwork (69 percent); increases morale (59 percent); and increases knowledge sharing and open communication (50 percent).

There is no denying that workplace friendships can contribute to a positive workplace culture, including increased productivity and creativity, heightened morale, enhanced personal performance and stronger team cohesiveness.  But many times employees aren’t even aware that these small, but positive changes are good for their company’s overall business.  It’s almost hard to not befriend coworkers given the amount of time many people spend at their jobs, whether due to the current economic climate, job responsibilities or one’s own personal work style.

Work Place Friendships

On the flip side, some employees do see risks in having workplace friendships, most commonly because they feed gossip (44 percent), create favoritism (37 percent), blur professional boundaries (37 percent) or create conflicts of interest (35 percent).  Fewer believe that these friendships can cause others to feel uncomfortable (26 percent), reduce productivity or performance (22 percent), reduce constructive feedback/openness (19 percent) or reduce loyalty to the company (6 percent).

Although some working adults see a downside to having workplace friendships, just 12 percent felt that making friends at work was risky.

It probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise then that managers have a slightly different view of workplace friendships.  When asked whether they support or encourage the development of friendships in the workplace, 49 percent indicated they did, while only 29 percent of non-managers felt their workplace supported these relationships. This difference in perception provides an excellent opportunity for managers and employees to talk about the importance of building relationships with team members and fostering an environment of support and collaboration.

The survey also found that managers were more likely to feel that workplace friendships create conflicts of interest and cause other employees discomfort.

Blurred Lines

Regardless of personal beliefs, there is no denying that the lines between working Americans’ personal and professional lives have blurred.  One reason may be the expanded roles and responsibilities many have taken on due to layoffs and hiring freezes.  Roughly a third of survey respondents said their family knows their friends from work (39 percent) and that they discuss personal matters with their workplace friends (32 percent).  However, a similar number (37 percent) felt that it was smart to keep personal and professional lives separate.  Not surprising, only 5 percent stated that there was no one at work that they considered to be a friend.

So what do workplace friends do outside of the four walls of the office? According to the Work Watch survey, many felt that activities such as attending movies and concerts or going to bars and dinner (61 percent) or hanging out casually at one another’s home (57 percent) were proper activities. But respondents seemed to draw the line at vacationing together and going on romantic dates.

Clear Boundaries

Remember that it’s always best to establish clear boundaries, keeping in mind that conversations and personal information shouldn’t be divulged, but rather kept within the circle of friendship.  Likewise, maintaining personal time away from the office and away from workplace friends can be very healthy in the long run.

What do you think?

Do you have a best friend at work?

Do you need a friend at work to enjoy your job?

Eileen is currently the senior vice president of Organizational Development with Randstad, the world’s 2nd largest provider of HR solutions and staffing. Eileen is responsible for leading efforts in training and development, performance management, leadership development, HR consulting, and diversity.

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* J.D. of Get Rich Slowly has a guest post called Reader Story: Be Happy on Your Own Terms. Stop conforming and start living.

If you enjoyed this post then you will probably like this one too:

> How to Build Better Relationships at Work

> Never Stop Expanding Your Network

Image courtesy of The Brownhorse