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Why You've Got to Have Friends at Work


Friendship is more than pleasurable. It's also profitable!

Tom Rath, longtime Gallup researcher and author of Vital Friends: The People You Can't Afford to Live Without, offers some fascinating data on the intrinsic connection between liking the people you work with and improving productivity at work:

1. People with a best friend at work are 7 times more likely to be engaged in their work -- and thereby more productive. Unfortunately, only 30% of employees reported having a best friend at work! Without one, the chances of being engaged in your job are 1 in 12 (8%).

2. Close friendships at work boost employee satisfaction by nearly 50%. People with at least 3 close friends at work were 46% more likely to be extremely satisfied with their job and 96% more likely to be extremely satisfied with their life.

3. Being around a boss was generally considered the least-pleasant part of the workday. But, employees who are good friends with their bosses are more than twice as likely to be happy with their work.

4. We may not need an extraordinary quantity of friends. More than 4 may not make much difference. But Rath reminds: "It is likely to be the quality of our friendships that matters most. Each person needs a few very deep friendships to thrive. The absence of high-quality friendships is bad for our health, spirits, productivity, and longevity."

Tom Rath describes a "work friend" as "someone you spend a lot of time in a relationship with. And you are probably making a difference in that person's life, too. If the person were gone, work would be less fun."

What's interesting about Rath's friendship findings is that many companies discourage workplace camaraderie.

Nearly one-third of the 80,000 managers and leaders interviewed by Gallup agreed with the statement that "familiarity breeds contempt." According to Rath, these foolish companies are only harming themselves. "When we asked people if they would rather have a best friend at work or a 10% pay raise, having a friend clearly won," says Rath. "Friendships are among the most fundamental of human needs."

Rath has identified 8 different friendship roles -- and warns that no single person can be all roles at once. Indeed, the fatal flaw people make is to expect someone to fulfill too many roles.

Rath calls this expectation a rounding error -- where you expect a person to be well-rounded enough to meet every single need. Since perfection rarely exists, Rath suggests it's wiser to focus instead on what each friend does contribute to your life.

Because Rath emphasizes the benefits of "friendship clarification," he suggests clarifying the roles work buddies fall into – and has divvied them into 8 categories.
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© Karen Salmansohn

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