Are friendships in the workplace a good idea?
Most seem to favour establishing genuine and meaningful relationships at work, suggesting that they are essential to employee happiness and productivity. Studies by Gallup indicate that people with a best friend at the office are likely to be more than seven times more engaged than those who do not – plus engagement tends to translate into improved safety and higher profits.
On the flip side, a lack of boundaries and clear expectations around workplace friendships sound alarm bells for HR Managers due to their potential for gossip, favouritism, silo's, cliques and sexual harassment.
I've had my taste of drama from workplace friendships, and I know first-hand that it's not always pretty. However, I am a look at the bright side kind-of-person. I firmly believe that meaningful friendships, rooted in mutual respect and trust, are essential for our general wellbeing – and according to studies, can be good for our physiological health.
Here are my three wellness-related motivations for friendship at work:
1. Emotional wellbeing
It is human to want to build connections, and when we're unable to establish a genuine rapport with others, we become lonely and isolated. Through our relationships with one another, we find the emotional and psychological support we need to manage and deal with many of the stressors that challenge us in the workplace. Friendship boosts our mood and morale, carrying us through difficult times.
2. Everyone has a story
Super simple this one. You never know what someone is going through, be kind. Getting to know the person behind the position or corporate role helps us better understand the decisions individuals make. At the very least, we're able to empathise with one another when we're having a bad day, dropped the ball, overreacted or not reacted fast enough.
Our corporate cultures tend to be fast-paced, busy, unforgiving. Unfortunately, things are not always what they appear. Simultaneously, we don't need to be best friends to put ourselves in another's shoes – instead, applying the intricacies of successful friendships to how we engage with one another in general.
Taking the time to know your colleagues a bit better is not only good for your emotional wellbeing; it can be life-saving for one another in times of crisis and high stress. Wellness programmes that educate employees around the signs and symptoms of emotional distress or mental health disorders are brought into play when colleagues became aware of changes in one another's behaviour. For example, when ordinarily outgoing or engaged employees start to isolate or seem unnervingly quiet, it can be a sign of burnout or emotional distress. Often we need some insight into the person behind the position to identify when a colleague needs help.
So whilst it's tempting to draw a clear line between work and home, evidence strongly suggests that friendships at work create a happier workplace, which in turn drives engagement and greater productivity.
My advice, establish professional boundaries with clear expectations for your work buddies – provided you don't overshare and can steer clear of gossip – building meaningful connections with your colleagues is good for your health.