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Workplace friendships – Good or Bad?

Are your colleagues your friends? If the answer is yes, then you might be just more secured for long term career success as well as health and happiness compared to those who have no workplace friendships. Well, at least according this  study, by Officevibe, which found that 70 percent of employees say friends at work is the most crucial element to a happy working life, and 58 percent of men would refuse a higher-paying job if it meant not getting along with co-workers.

When I arrived to Amsterdam 10 years ago I was in a mess. Dealing with a private life crisis I moved to a new country for a short term work contract where I knew literally no one. I had no idea where anything was, had nowhere to live and I had no friends (I didn’t have a bicycle either, which was a must have item to get by as I figured out later). Little I knew then, how important and significant my workplace friendships will become and influence my life for the next 10 years that followed after and beyond.

Most of those friendships I made at “the Firm” (as we just casually called it between us) I am still cherishing to nowadays and even tough many of us left that workplace years ago, we are still in touch one way or another with each other. I know for a fact that nearly all of us still remember those times as the “best times at the Firm” and “the best workplace we ever had”.

So what made it so special? Was it only the unique circumstances?

Partially to find some meaningful explanation to these questions as well as an attempt to collect a set of criteria for improving team work, I started to look out for patterns within my team development projects and began to compare some of the key areas of performance to get some evidence on what makes one team more effective than others. Whilst my small, experimental research can hardly be called fully representative, I certainly came to some revealing conclusions:

  • Shared purpose and vision increases motivation – when a team had a common purpose, fully recognised by all team members and a shared vision they could all relate to, issues like longer working hours, lack of motivation were less significant problems (or not at all!) compared to teams when the team was lacking of a common purpose or a shared vision.
  • Strong bonds mean positive performance and better atmosphere – teams where the team members were regularly hanging out with each other after work and were socialising beyond the workplace, reported to be feeling more safe to express their opinions and challenge each other for better results at work as well as have more fun with their team mates at the workplace. On the other hand, when team members had very little or no interaction outside of work activities, were more likely reported to feel unsafe, and not associating “fun” with work.
  • Social time helps to keep stress away- teams that integrated social activities to their average working days on a regular basis, such as going out for lunch together or creating a Skype group where they would share fun things, jokes and private stuff, reported that those activities helped them with releasing tensions and managing stress when going through rough periods at work.

None of this is actually real news or surprising. Donald Clifton, the former educational psychologist who founded Gallup, found that work relationships are one of the strongest predictors of productivity. This  Gallup research has found that those who have strong work relationships are more engaged, produce higher-quality work and have a higher state of well being.

Hard times are inevitable in our dynamically and fast changing world, where re-structuring’s, mergers, acquisitions, layoffs are becoming more frequent.

While admittedly work friendships can be complicated, frustrating and draining sometimes, they could also help us to handle these changes better and increase our resilience in stressful situations.

I am curious to hear you views, experience on this, so if you feel like commenting and engaging in a discussion please drop me a note at info@associatesforchange.net