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Best Friends At Work?

Best Friends

I read this New York Times’ article about how it is supposed to be harder to make friends once you pass the age of 30 and it reminded me of some old Gallup surveys I saw on employee engagement citing “having a best friend at work” as an indicator of employee engagement.

The article itself is quite interesting as someone myself who recently nudged over the line of [SPOILER ALERT] being closer to 60 than 30. Just. Recently.

“Gallup also observed that employees who report having a best friend at work were:

  • 43% more likely to report having received praise or recognition for their work in the last seven days.
  • 37% more likely to report that someone at work encourages their development.
  • 35% more likely to report coworker commitment to quality.
  • 28% more likely to report that in the last six months, someone at work has talked to them about their progress.
  • 27% more likely to report that the mission of their company makes them feel their job is important.
  • 27% more likely to report that their opinions seem to count at work.
  • 21% more likely to report that at work, they have the opportunity to do what they do best every day.”

I don’t know if ‘having a best friend at work’ really is a major driver of employee engagement. It stirs up conversations for sure whenever I bring it up in workshops. Even Gallup referred to it as “controversial” but they stuck by it. I guess I can see it as symptomatic of a workplace culture that allows trust, belonging, contribution, support and all those good things that do definitely drive engagement. Certainly, on the flipside, those without employment at any time also lose a massive chunk of chance to interact socially which us humans definitely need. Losing a job isn’t just losing a pay-cheque.

So, what does work provide that potentially generates and builds friendships?

“As external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other…”

Where these days (or ever) do those conditions occur? Schools and workplaces. And if you’re over 30, you’re probably not at school anymore. (Maybe we all should be?) Unless you’re a teacher. But then, that also counts a workplace. Teachers must have lots of friends.

Are Your Co-Workers Killing You?

This article by Jonah Lehrer asks the question, “Are your co-workers killing you?” He goes on to cite a 20-year study into the effects of the workplace on longevity. There’s another longitudinal study that draws similar conclusions but goes on to the more important ‘why’. As I recently blogged with Langer and Rubin’s potplant experiment with old folks, the issue affecting health etc was one of perceived control.

You may or may not have ****heads as colleagues in your team but if they start affecting the degree to which you think you have influence over your work and your results, that’s when it starts getting unhealthy, nevermind less productive. (Bear in mind the old joke: Think of your four closest friends. Research shows that one in five people are a ****head. If you disagree… it’s you…)

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