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Friends at work


Yesterday I stopped in at a local chain store to pick up a couple of things. While browsing the shelves, I overheard two employees talking. One of them said, “Remember that question about having a best friend at work – you’re my best friend!” My immediate thought was that they must have recently taken some kind of employee engagement or opinion survey, as one area that’s been shown to influence engagement and job satisfaction is the quality of peer interactions (Harter, Schmidt, Agrawal, & Plowman, 2013; MacLeod & Clarke, 2009).

When paying for my purchase a little while later, I realized what a pleasant experience I’d had shopping at that store. The employees were friendly, helpful, and efficient. No scowling, heavy sighs, or customer-avoidance – those things customers sometimes experience when employees just don’t want to be there. I didn’t give it any more thought at the time, but later connected the dots between these pieces. It’s anecdotal, yes. But here, in a common, everyday interaction, I’d experienced the benefit of doing business with a company that cares about engagement and creates an environment that fosters it.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, research has shown that interpersonal bonds are one of the keys to engagement in the workplace (Fisher, 2013; Tuckman, 1965). While friendships at work have not always been encouraged or even tolerated, those attitudes are (thankfully) changing today. The myth that friendships interfere with getting things done is evaporating – and is rapidly being replaced with a recognition of and appreciation for the value of interpersonal relationships in generating and enhancing group functionality.

Think about a time you’ve been extremely productive at work. How did your interpersonal relationships (dare I say “friendships”?) fit into the picture?


Fisher, D. M. (2013, November 4). Distinguishing between taskwork and teamwork planning in teams: Relations with coordination and interpersonal process. Journal of Applied Psychology, 1-15. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0034625

Harter, J. K., Schmidt, F. L., Agrawal, S., & Plowman, S. K. (2013). The relationship between engagement at work and organizational outcomes (2012 Q12). Retrieved from Gallup website: www.gallup.com

MacLeod, D., & Clarke, N. (2009). Engaging for success: Enhancing performance through employee engagement. Retrieved from Department for business innovation & skills: http://www.bis.gov.uk/files/file52215.pdf

Tuckman, B. W. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological bulletin, 63, 384-399. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/h0022100

2 Responses

  1. Shari
    | Reply

    The last time I experienced that type of work environment was when I worked as a civil servant for the AIR Force. They called it esprit de corps. It really did feel like family where everybody sharwd the workload and did their part. People socialized outside of work hours and sought extracurricular work events to join together. Many hands made light the work and at the end of the day we didn’t dread the next. I hadn’t thought about it in this context, but it is so true!

    The hard part, I think, is how to create that type of work environment where it is not the existing culture. Any suggestions?

    • Jani J
      | Reply

      Great example, Shari. The kind of camaraderie you describe can take work from something we dread to something we look forward to and are excited about.
      Your question about how to create that type of environment brought many things to mind for me, but one that stood out is “leadership.” And not necessarily or exclusively from the person who holds the title of “leader,” although that certainly helps. A few years ago a friend of mine moved to a new city. Within months, she had transformed the culture of her long-established workplace into one similar to what you described: people joining together and socializing outside of work, forming friendships that made their working hours more enjoyable and, I expect, more productive. How did she do it? Her official role was not “leader.” But she led nonetheless, making it a point to get to know her co-workers on a personal level, seeking out local events to attend (introducing peers who had lived in the city their entire lives to new experiences), and planning activities so they were inclusive and welcoming to all. This one individual was able to make a huge difference in that work environment.

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