• Never Grow Up

An Organisational Perspective on Workplace Friendships


“The only reason that I’m still sticking around at this workplace is because I have amazing colleagues!”


Have you ever heard a fellow colleague say this?

Have you ever felt this way yourself?


On an average the number of working hours clocked in by Singaporeans range anywhere from 40-45 hours. According to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index report in September 2020, Singapore has been cited with the highest rate of burnout at 37% post six months of the lockdown imposed due to the pandemic. Out of which, 28% is said to have stemmed from employees feeling isolated and disconnected from their co-workers. And no amount of team building activities for employees can compensate for it.


Singtel used the enterprise version of Zoom to host a virtual town hall for its 4000 employees. While Deloitte Singapore encouraged its employees to take up virtual learning courses to complement their core skills, DBS launched mindfulness webinars to accentuate its employee well-being. But we are yet to encounter an organization that has invested in facilitating a peer-to-peer bonding; a tool or a platform where employees can connect with their co-workers to discuss beyond work.


Befriending colleagues improves morale and happiness

It is true! A research report by Gallup in the late 1990’s identified that having a BFF at work was one of the key aspects to a great workplace. Not only does it foster a sense of trust amongst peers, but it also helps add towards building a positive work culture. A well-crafted internal communications strategy can help drive engagement. But a well-bonded team remains self-motivated.


Three decades later, and more so because of the situation of remote working, workplace friendships have proven to be a boon! People spend 50 odd hours at the workplace in a week and having a colleague as a friend is said to be an integral factor that adds brownie points to the calculation of job satisfaction index.


Workplace friendships amplify collaboration

From water cooler conversations to sharing lunch breaks discussing hobbies, from intellectually stimulating smoke breaks, to celebrating each other’s achievements at work – what is it that you really miss the most?


Research has shown that peer behavior can be a powerful influencer in an individual’s decision-making. People’s energy is contagious. Why else are team building activities for employees so important? If cued rightly, optimism will effortlessly seep into workplace relations leading to a higher rate of productivity and happiness. Thus, increasing the overall value of the business.


So, is it healthy to make friends at work?

The straight off answer to this question would be a ‘Yes’. Friends at work can be a great pillar of support and help build your emotional resilience. They keep you motivated and fuel your aspirations by investing their faith in your abilities. However, identifying ‘toxic friendships at the workplace’ is equally important.


“I had to take a long break from work because my colleague needed to shop for his date.”


Anything that hampers work – From distractions to gossip and rumors, must be tread upon very carefully. Colleagues can also influence your perspectives and mindsets, sometimes negatively, causing your close friendship to become strained and resentful. Being close to a colleague who pushes their weight AND their work around, or simply is an outright bully is definitely unhealthy.


Drawing the line between friends & colleagues

An SHRM Survey states that at least 25% of employees have had a ‘work spouse’ in their career. A work spouse is a person with aligned values, a like-minded mindset, same passion to make a difference, and someone who you can blow off steam with. It’s like having a close family member, but at work. Nothing romantic.


But here’s the tricky part – Personal relationships rely heavily on emotional support to help you through tough times. While professional relationships focus more on career advancements or making the work a better place.


Drawing the line between friends and colleagues is simple – The decision of how much of trust to invest in your peers and how much of personal information to share, can only be determined by every individual. If you experience any signs where your friendship is being taken for granted or being taken advantage of, if peers steal credit for your hard work and speak ill of you behind your back, you will know exactly when to start maintaining a distance. Because any kind of friendship should always be a give and take relationship. One that uplifts you instead of weighing you down.


And although envy at the workplace amongst colleagues can lead to disruptions in team dynamics and could also sabotage your career growth, there’s nothing greater than having a colleague transform themselves into your biggest confidante!


As for the question of ‘Should organizations encourage workplace friendships?’ – The answer would be – Build the level of trust and ownership in the company that gives your people the autonomy to take that call.


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