Workplace Friendships: The Benefits and Challenges

Workplace Friendships: The Benefits

When you work in close proximity to other people in an organization, it’s inevitable that friendships begin to develop. Morrison and Terry (2007) wrote that “people are motivated to make friends for the rewards they provide, be they social or more tangible and functional. Thus within the workplace too, it is reasonable to assume that some people make friends so as to enhance their own working conditions” (p. 39).

Workplace friendship involves a workplace/organizational peer that we believe we’d be friends with even if we didn’t work together, that we consider the person more than just a coworker, and that we feel that we know each other really well (Morrison & Terry, 2007).

Reich & Hershcovis (2011) wrote that workplace friendships are voluntary relationships where people interact as unique individuals rather than as occupants of organizational roles (coworker or supervisor). We form and maintain workplace friendships to enhance our social support and our job success. But most of all, we make friends at work to help us satisfy our need to belong (Reich & Hershcovis, 2011).

Workplace friendships are linked to increased job satisfaction, job involvement, job performance, team cohesion, organizational commitment, and decreased intentions to turnover (Reich & Hershcovis, 2011).

Interestingly, Morrison (2009) discovered that while women are more likely to see workplace friendships in terms of the social and emotional support in times of stress, men tend to view workplace friendships in terms of the benefits to their own career or in helping them complete a task or the job duties.

Workplace Friendships: The Challenges

Although the benefits of workplace friendships are many, there are also difficulties or challenges, including blurring of boundaries, having to devote time to the friendship, and distraction from work — all of which can cause distraction and anxiety, ultimately resulting in reduced work outputs (Morrison & Terry, 2007).

Workplace friendships fail for five main reasons (Sias, Heath, Perry, Silva, & Fix, 2004):

  1. problem personality
  2. distracting life events
  3. conflicting expectations
  4. promotion
  5. betrayal

Personality and life events can end a workplace friendship when they distract employees from their work. Betrayal can certainly destroy a workplace friendship. It makes sense that after a betrayal, it can be very difficult to regain trust. In the case of promotion, it becomes much harder to maintain an equal relationship balance because now one person (the promoted individual) has formal authority over the other.

Workplace Friendships: Tricky but Worth It

Seppala and King (2017) explained there’s always the potential of workplace friendship fallout and there are “real entanglements that can arise when the boundaries between work and friendship become blurred.” However, given that belonging is a fundamental human need and that we spend a large part of our time at work, the workplace “is an ideal place to foster the positive connections we all need — not just for our well-being but also for our productivity and health.”

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

References

Morrison, R. L. (2009). Are Women Tending and Befriending in the Workplace? Gender Differences in the Relationship Between Workplace Friendships and Organizational Outcomes. Sex roles, 60(1),

Morrison, R. L., & Terry, N. (2007). Too Much of a Good Thing?: Difficulties with Workplace Friendships. University of Auckland Business Review, 9(2), 33-41.

Reich, T. C., & Hershcovis, M. S. (2011). Interpersonal relationships at work. In S. Zedeck (Ed.), APA handbook of industrial and organizational psychology (Vol. 3, pp. 223-248). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Seppala, E., & King, M. (2017, August). Having Work Friends Can Be Tricky, but It’s Worth It. Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2017/08/having-work-friends-can-be-tricky-but-its-worth-it

Sias, P. M., Heath, R. G., Perry, T., Silva, D., & Fix, B. (2004). Narratives of workplace friendship deterioration. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 21(3), 321–340.