Do I Belong Here? How Friendships Improve Employee Engagement

Updated: Jan 29

Do I belong here? That's the question we ask ourselves when applying for jobs and then repeatedly throughout the years as we make decisions about our career and life. How do we know whether we belong or not? A big factor is whether we've bonded with our coworkers. We could call this bonding camaraderie or friendships. Whatever it is, it is often the glue that holds us together.

Most of us know in our gut that friends are often why we even go to work some days. Over time, co-workers can become like family, perhaps a dysfunctional family, but a family all the same. Friends are the people who get us through those really stressful times, share knowledge and experience to make the road smoother and celebrate successes with us.

However, employees aren't the only people who benefit from work friendships. Employers also have a lot to gain by fostering camaraderie. In Gallup's 2017 State of the American Workplace Report, the case is made that friendships actually predict performance. The study reported that currently two in 10 employees said they had a best friend at work. "By moving that ratio to six in 10 employees, organizations could realize 36 percent fewer safety incidents, seven percent more engaged customers and 12 percent higher profits," the report states. The caveat is that other basic needs of employees need to be met (clarity of expectations, a manager who cares - although a manager who cares could also qualify as a friend, right?) or else friendships can turn into gripe sessions.

"When employees possess a deep sense of a affiliation with their team members, they are driven to take positive actions that benefit the business - actions they may not otherwise even consider." - Gallup's 2017 State of the American Workplace Report.

A workplace with teamwork and camaraderie also help recruit and retain top talent. Employees report report that having friends at work makes their job more fun, enjoyable, creative and worthwhile. Gallup also reports that friendships boost employee satisfaction by 50%, and people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to engage fully in their work.

In addition, other research shows that groups of friends outperform groups of acquaintances in both decision making and effort tasks.

Help your employees get a boost in wellbeing through friendships at work

In an interview with Tom Rath and Jim Harter, authors of the book "Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements," they share that for every friend a person adds, they boost their self-reported wellbeing by nine percent.

And, while it's always been hard to quantify the financial value of friendships, Harvard happiness expert Daniel Gilbert created a real-life monopoly scenario where he breaks down the major areas of your life and attributes a financial number to them. According to Gilbert, relationships are one of the biggest sources of happiness in our lives – worth approximately an extra $131,232 a year.

How can we as communicators promote friendships? Looking for opportunities to get people together about work or non-work related topics and encouraging people to share their stories are a start in the right direction.