Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Does It Matter Whether You Have Friends at Work?

How important is it that you work with people you like? Does it matter if you hang out with them outside of work? Or, do you prefer to keep your professional and personal lives separate -- talking to friends during the day via Twitter and Facebook?

In my experience, it makes a difference to me that I like the folks where I work. If I don't, the days can be very long, and very stressful. At the same time, I know that if I work with people I like, I have a tendency to gab to them about non work-related stuff -- what I did over the weekend, the ongoing war I have with the deer that get into my garden and whether or not I can make dinner with only olives and bran cereal.

What impact do friends have on your work? Read this column I did for Gannett/ and see if your views change....

While research shows that workplace friendships result in higher job satisfaction among employees, there is a “dark side” to having buddies on the job, says a new study.

“You hear all these positive things about how friendships at work can build morale, and that’s true – but they can be bad for work because they can cause us to avoid getting work done,” says Jessica Methot, an assistant professor at Rutgers University.

When she was at the University of Florida, Methot studied colleague relationships and found those who worked with people considered “friends” engaged in “more whining and gossiping and complaining,” she says.

“In other words, these friends really didn’t help one another be more productive,” she says.

Patricia Turner, who works for an e-learning publisher in Lewisville, Texas, says she has noticed that if friends work in different departments, there’s a tendency for one person “to hang around the department with the friend and talk about their plans for the weekend.”

“Honestly, they’ve got no reason to be there (in that department). Neither person is getting any work done,” Turners says.

Methot says that’s a prime example of how workplace friendships can cause problems and impact productivity. “If you’ve got friends working in different departments, they have a tendency to want to get together, and chat,” she says.

The need to socialize with a friend at work – even if it means going to another area of a company – is something that managers need to be aware of when looking at work teams, Methot says.

“There are implications for companies that want company-wide team efforts. If you help all these people become friends, what kind of distraction is that going to be when they’re in different departments and they want to get together?” she questions.

For Turner, workplace friendships are nice to have, especially since it makes the work day more enjoyable if she can go to lunch with colleagues or talk easily with someone while on the job, she says. She adds she has a couple of workplace pals that are “very close,” and spends time with them outside of work. She says the flip side – not getting along with a co-worker – can make for a tense workplace atmosphere.

“I did have a job for 12 years where I worked beside a woman who was hard to work with. It was hell. She was dominating and territorial and I was always watching my back,” she says, adding that the co-worker “made me work harder. It made me more competitive.”

Methot says that when speaking with participants in her survey, the workers revealed they often had not considered the dynamics of their workplace relationships – or how friendships impacted their job or productivity.

“When employees think about not being able to get their jobs done, they think in terms of it being the fault of a supervisor or the Internet going down – they hadn’t really thought about their friends at work,” she says.

Still, Methot says that friendships overall are more positive than negative for the workplace.

“I think what surprised me was how workplace friendships among peers really provided support. An employee was much more likely to ask questions of a friend about how to do something, and they also got emotional support – the friends were more empathetic about what the person was going through,” Methot says.

At the same time, Methot provides a warning about workplace friendships: They can get rocky when one friend is promoted over another.

“We’re much more likely to be envious of someone we’re close to getting a big project, for example. We are much more likely to compare ourselves to them, and we may feel that we deserved it, not them,” she says.

Do you think your productivity is impacted by friends at work?


David Benjamin said...

I think anyone who has worked in the corporate world has seen problems on both ends.

Friends are more likely to foster bad behaviors than become an accountability partner for one another. Most people would rather goof off than work if given the option. Having friends around gives that option.

Not liking the people you work with can backfire too. Poor communication, cooperation, and team work makes for less productivity and lots of frustration.

Building a strong corporate culture is a good starting point to handle both ends of the spectrum. Create an atmosphere where it's OK to have fun as long as you're productive and successful. Reward top achievers. Eliminate problem employees.

gl said...

Good article Anita. I have seen this issue but from a slightly different perspective, from an entrepreneur's view who hires people, friends first. One can always be friendly, but there must be a separation of sorts that always exists. A Tough but clear line.

Anonymous said...

Good article Anita. I have seen this issue but from a slightly different perspective. As an entrepreneur, I have developed great friendships particularly with the early people in my companies. It is easy to forget that someone still has to be the boss and make tough, friendship changing decisions. This is a tough reality. This does not mean that you have to be dis engaged from people or mean spirited at all. I would just keep the beer drinking all day Saturday to a minimum. And try to keep families completely separate.
GL Hoffman
Chairman,, one of the best job search engines available.
Author of www.STARTUP 100 TIPS TO GET YOUR BUSINESS BTW, anyone who requests it who reads Anita's outstandlng blog, I will send a FREE pdf of it to them.

Anita said...

I think you make a great point about making sure everyone understands the company culture. Too many times I hear people complain that they're left to just figure things out on their own, leading to a lot of confusion and frustration. A clear understanding of that culture should begin even before the person is hired, and continue to be reinforced throughout employment. Thanks for your comments.

Anita said...

As always, you make some great points. It emphasizes that we need to think through how "transparent" we need to be in the workplace in order to get our jobs done.

Jane said...

I had many, many friends at my last job ...which is one of the reasons I miss it so much now (although I am still in touch with a number of them). And it's also one of the reasons I hung in there for so long, despite several years of difficulty with my boss. Not only were the friendships rewarding in themselves, but there's nothing like the appreciation and respect of colleagues to remind you that it's NOT you!

Anita said...

Your story made me think of all the far-flung families who aren't close by and able to provide day-to-day support for those under stress. How nice to hear that you found such great emotional connections on the job.

Legal Law Jobs Manager said...

Having friends at work help a lot in working not only better but it also improves karma, your working skills and helps getting promotions in company!