Why can’t we be friends: Buddies make better decisions than mere co-workers
  • leadership
  • Blog post

Why can’t we be friends: Buddies make better decisions than mere co-workers

People don’t form friendships at the office like they used to. In recent decades, the number of Americans who report having a close friend at work has dropped from about half to 30% or so, according to research a few years back from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.

There are lots of reasons for this trend, according to Adam Grant, a management professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School: the growing impermanence of jobs, the rise of social media and its effect on face-to-face relationships, even factors specific to American culture like the Protestant work ethic.

But it’s a shame, when you consider the consequences both on the way people feel about coming to work, and on productivity and efficiency: One study shows that employees are more satisfied and committed when they have a chance to form friendships at work, and another points out that groups of friends perform better on all kinds of tasks — both decision-making and purely operative — because there’s more commitment and cooperation than with groups of acquaintances.

Facilitating friendship
So what’s the solution for employers who would like to see their workplace become friendlier? After all, you can’t put out a Mandatory Friendship Directive ordering your people to like each other.

You can, however, bear certain facts in mind:

  • The more turnover there is in your organization, the less likely people are to be friends. The deep trust and liking implied by friendship is built over time. If you want to be a friendlier place, try to be a place that holds on to good people.
  • The more you encourage people to interact, the greater the chance that they’ll strike up friendships. A single office party at Christmastime probably isn’t going to result in lasting amicability, but if you create multiple opportunities over the course of the year for people to mingle and learn about each other, you stand a chance of achieving a good result.
  • The more open your managers are with employees, the more likely the latter are to respond with openness, both toward the managers and each other, and openness is the great sine qua non of friendship. (Note: While you probably don’t want managers to get all buddy-buddy with their subordinates, a dollop of friendliness doesn’t hurt.)

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