Friends at work: help or hindrance?

Written by
Lee Biggins

26 Jul 2016

26 Jul 2016 • by Lee Biggins

It’s a question that many HR teams have deliberated and feeds into every aspect of an employee’s journey; from recruitment to taking the decision to find a new job. It can be argued that amicable friendships help employees to feel more engaged, happy and productive at work, but also that it’s another distraction pulling staff away from their day-to-day job. To explore the trend further, we recently surveyed over 1,600 professionals and found that most workers (90.5%) believe that having friends at work is important, which is unsurprising given that UK employees are spending up to 40 hours a week in the office.

Do friends retain talent?

It’s clear that workers see the value of making friends in the office, and 1 in 5 stated that they have stayed in a job they hate just to remain close with their work friends. Interestingly though, the vast majority (87.3%) actually said that they put their career ambitions ahead of workplace friendships, which is good news for businesses. Especially given the fact that 8.9% have quit their dream job after falling out with their work friends, creating resourcing issues for employers and damaging what could have been great career prospects for the employee. 

But it does beg the question: how do you get the balance right, and ensure that your employees’ careers aren’t being affected by their decision to have, or not have, friends at work? Below, I explain the best action that HR teams can take:

Target questions during the interview process

Despite being the minority, employees that don’t conduct themselves professionally will set a bad example to others. This is particularly important when bringing on new recruits, and in the current job market, many UK employers are actively expanding their workforce. To uncover any concerning traits, it is worth raising the topic during the interview process and assessing whether the candidate will be a fun addition to the team that raises morale, or a distraction that will bring productivity down. 

Nurture relationships

It’s clear that social relationships in the workplace do play a part in an employees’ decision to stay within a company. Therefore, employers should look to provide opportunities to nurture these relationships. Buddy programmes, for example, are a great way to onboard new staff into the business, pairing them up with colleagues at their peer-level and encouraging the sharing of knowledge and ideas. Social get-togethers once or twice a month also encourage interaction outside of the formal environment, which can be a great way for staff to meet new colleagues, and enjoy time with their workplace friends.


Create the right balance

If employers want to get the most out of their workforce, they must also maintain a professional atmosphere. For instance have a structured 9-5:30 day and complement it with regular social events to encourage staff to mix. This means that its heads down for most of the day, maintaining a professional and productive working environment, but there are good social opportunities once or twice a month to ensure the culture remains fun. As a result, our staff have forged great friendships which extend beyond the workplace and contribute to the culture of the business.

It’s always very difficult for companies to find the balance between encouraging social activity and maintaining productivity in the workplace. The good news for organisations is that while employees do value having friends at work, they recognise the need to put their careers first. This positive morale is key to business success, especially at a time when the job market is facing a number of economic uncertainties.