Guest Blog: Why We Need “Work Friends”

November 6, 2014 Sharlyn Lauby, Guest Blogger

I read an article recently about having friends at work and outside work. It reminded me of the Gallup Q12 item that addresses having a best friend at work.

For those who might not be familiar, the Gallup Q12 is a survey that measures employee engagement. It’s consists of 12 statements that measure what matter to employees. One of them is “I have a best friend at work.”

As a human resources professional, I believe it is important for employees to have friends at work. We spend way too much time at work not to have fun and make friends. But it’s important to recognize that it’s not as easy as it sounds. Just like in our home lives, making and maintaining work friendships is tough.

And because it can be a challenge, how many times have we heard the statements?

“I’m not here to make friends. I’m here to do my job.”

“I don’t want to be too friendly in case I have to discipline an employee.”

“If I make friends with someone, people will think I’m playing favorites.”

As a human resources professional, I’ve struggled with these issues myself. How does a person in HR, the department that’s considered to be neutral ground, have work friends? Will employees still respect HR and view us as being fair? But over time, I also realized two key components to work friendships.

Work friends can be in your industry, not just in your company. Yes, we will have friends within our departments and our organizations. But work friends can also just be in our industry. I have work friends who are human resources pros, HR consultants, employment attorneys, and service providers. I see them at HR conferences and stay connected via social media.

Work friends understand the boundaries between the relationship and the work. I’ve been friends with fellow managers and members of the HR team. As a consultant, I’m friends with my clients. But we know when it’s time to laugh and time to work. We also respect those times when we don’t agree. Because our jobs require us to do the work – not go along to get along.

So, having work friends is important. It’s tough to do but totally worth the effort. Why? Because organizations benefit when they create a work environment where friendships are encouraged. And, more importantly, they teach employees how to build successful friendships. Here’s how those workplace friendships help the company:

  • Socialization – In the 2014 Workforce Mood Tracker report, 73% of respondents said they’ve laughed with co-workers so hard they almost cried. Do you remember the last time you did that? My guess is you were with friends. Laughter helps us build relationships. We like being around fun.
  • Teamwork – Let’s face it, when we are friends with people we work with, the work just seems to be a bit more enjoyable. Not always, but many times having to do a challenging or boring task with the right group of people can make the time much more pleasant.
  • Engagement – Being around people you like and feeling the work you do is valuable creates employee engagement. Employees who are engaged want to be at work. The workplace is fun. People are having a good time. The work is getting done. Goals are being accomplished.
  • Retention – We know that engaged employees want to stay with the company. They like what they do and the people they work with. Their work friends are like family. Employees feel they can be authentic and genuine.

‘Why we need work friends’, by @Sharlyn_Lauby
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As companies continue to focus their attention on employee engagement and retention, it’s time to think about the role of workplace relationships. Organizations can build cool office spaces, provide the latest and greatest technology, and offer neat perks. If employees don’t have “work friends,” they will seek out someplace where they can get them. Things can be replaced. Relationships can’t.

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