Why Can’t We Be Friends? An Outlook on Workplace Friendships.



“Why Can’t We Be Friends?” by War, continuously circulates on the company’s playlist. The repetition of the song annoys me, yet the concept sparks a question of the value of relationships, specifically, friendship in the workplace.

For most of my adult life, I held onto the belief that friendships at work were never genuine nor necessary. However, after enduring the economic crash of 2008, and the current crisis surrounding COVID-19, my mindset has shifted.


Are Workplace Friendships Essential?

I would argue that work friendships are essential. Often, we spend more time with our coworkers in an average workweek than with our families. I believe organizations are embracing bonding in the workplace by organizing social activities such as retreats and company parties. Workplace friendships serve as a vital element in the organizing process (Lincoln & Miller, 1979). Friendships within organizations are not merely coincidental. These connections contribute to decision making, circulating resources, and completing tasks that are intricately related to work behavior and collaboration (Lincoln & Miller, 1979). These unique associations can foster work creativity, increase morale, improve employee retention, and decrease turnover (Kram & Isabella, 1985).


Dangers of Workplace Friendships

Developing friendships at work can be beneficial and risky. Organizations must be aware of the following risks in fostering these friendships.

1. Distractions: Employees can get become distracted by the factors of their peer relationships, resulting in a decline in productivity and a tense work environment. It could become difficult to give constructive feedback to a “friend” without fear of offending them.

2. Cliques: Cliques can leave coworkers feeling excluded from their team. This organizational community can be tainted with accusations of bias. Decision making can be compromised if individuals believe they were denied an opportunity in favor of someone else’s friend.

3. Competition: Individuals may feel uncomfortable competing against their work friend for a promotion or recognition. There could be a conflict in the relationship if one individual is more competitive than the other.

Overall, workplace friendships can yield excellent results if appropriately managed. I believe there is power in connection and communication. It is an efficient way to learn about other coworkers and create synergy. Acknowledging the limitations and establishing appropriate boundaries can lead to healthier interactions between coworkers.


I challenge organizations to develop camaraderie in the workplace. Employees tend to find their work more enjoyable and satisfying when they develop friendships with their coworkers. Use this factor as a competitive advantage in recruiting talent. Who would not want to work for a company that promotes a friendly environment? Google, Zappos, and Southwest Airlines are well known for their fun work culture. Human Resources can incorporate this into the workplace culture by merely modeling the culture. It is as simple as engaging employees, treating them with respect, and having fun at work. Once this positive atmosphere is created, your employees will eventually emulate the same positive behaviors and evoke change in the workplace.


Resources

1. Kram, K.E., & Isabella, L.A. (1985). Mentoring alternatives: The role of peer relationships in career development. Academy of Management Journal, 28, 110-132.

2. Lincoln, J. R., & Miller, J. (1979). Work and friendship ties in organizations; A comparative analysis of relational networks. Administrative Science Quarterly 24, 181-199.

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