Thursday, September 20, 2007

Friends on the Job

In the early days of my career, I was very good friends with many of the people at work. I’m not sure if this was because we were young, single and in the pressure-cooker environment of a busy newsroom, but we all seemed to be pretty tight.

We’d often play cards after work until the wee hours of the morning, we haunted pubs and pool halls on the weekends, or looked for other low-cost ways to entertain ourselves when not at work (we were also all incredibly poor).

And when we all moved into various new positions elsewhere, it was wrenching. We tried to stay in contact, but jobs in different places kept us apart.

Later in my career, once I was married, I was friendly with people at work, but never spent time with them outside the office. In fact, my boss asked me why I didn’t sort of “hang around” with others after work and seemed in such a rush to get home (I can’t imagine why this was any of his business). But I answered honestly: “I’ve had the kind of life where my personal and professional life were blurred, but at this point it’s important to me to really work on my private life in private.”

Still, I look back with great fondness on those early days when my best buddies and I competed good-naturedly for stories and talked during the day about what we would be doing that night. It sort of made work, well, less like work. And it certainly cut down on an anxiety about back-biting co-workers, because we were friends and we just didn’t function that way.

I have been reminiscing more about those days since I interviewed a Florida State University professor who co-authored a study about different on-the-job components. One of those was the fact that having a “socially supportive” workplace is related to greater job satisfaction, lower feelings of exhaustion and reduced turnover.

The study was based on an analysis of 40 years of earlier research and some 220,000 workers, and pretty much supports the anecdotes I’ve been hearing.

For example, recruiters tell me that when they try and attract college candidates, they often hire the candidate – and a couple of qualified friends. Recruiters say that they understand that it’s often very important to younger workers to have a friendly atmosphere at work, and are more satisfied and less willing to jump ship if they work with buddies.

Of course, the Gallup Organization came out with similar findings about the importance of having good friends at work, which Tom Rath wrote about in the best-selling “Vital Friends.”

So, how about you? Are having friends on the job important? Or, is being just “friendly” good enough? Are there any downsides to having friends on the job? I’d like to hear your thoughts….

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