Survey: Workplace Friends Important Retention Factor

Most full-time workers spend more time with work pals than family

By Kathy Gurchiek Dec 16, 2014

You laugh with them, share triumphs and woes, and sometimes lend a helping hand. Workplace friends can feel like family.

Most workers logging 30-50 hours at work spend more time with their on-the-job pals than their own families, according to a recent survey.

Individuals with six or more workplace friends report feeling deeply connected to their companies. Nearly two-thirds of 716 full-time workers in the U.S. surveyed who had six to 25 workplace friends said they love their company.

That warm, fuzzy feeling drops dramatically as the number of workplace friends declines—fewer than half of those with one to five friends at their company feel the love and just 24 percent with no workplace friends love where they work.

Workplace friendships impact retention and employees’ commitment, pride, and engagement and trust in the organization’s leadership, according to The Effect of Work Relationships on Organizational Culture and Commitment.

The findings are from a survey Globoforce conducted for Workforce magazine from Aug. 13-18, 2014, with randomly selected individuals ages 18 and older who were employed at companies with 500 or more people.

HR recruiter Julia Y. Manuel of Asheville, N.C. agrees that workplace relationships add value to the job.

“We spend the bulk of our life, it seems sometimes, with our ‘work family,’ and though it may be somewhat strained at intervals, you have to have a few good friends to joke around with and align yourself with. It helps you enjoy your work more!” she said in a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) LinkedIn discussion.

In the Workforce survey, 61 percent of respondents said colleagues’ support helped them through a challenging time in their lives—a difficult pregnancy, caregiving of aging parents, financial help at Christmas—and 55 percent said work relationships were “very to extremely important” to their quality of life.

Additionally, people with work pals are less likely to accept an offer for a new job outside their company, and the likelihood of their staying put increases with the number of workplace friends they have. Sixty-two percent of employees with one to five work friends said they would reject a job offer; that increases to 70 percent for those with six to 25 friends at work.

Darcy Jacobsen, senior content marketing manager, blogger and analyst for Globoforce, thinks it’s to an employer’s advantage to give employees opportunities to connect with each other.

“The more connections you form among employees … the more people are going to feel embedded and enmeshed and loyal to the company,” she said.

Yum! brands, she noted, has a company Facebook page that encourages employees to connect on subjects that have nothing to do with work, such as travel plans. In some cases, Yum! product ideas have reportedly resulted from these online conversations. NASA’s Greenbelt, Md.-based Goddard Space Flight Center has a chess club and similar groups for employees.

“That’s a great way for them to connect. [It gives] employees permission to … have agency and ownership of their own culture,” Jacobsen said.

Establishing avenues for employees to connect with each other—whether through employer-sponsored activities or social media outlets such as Yammer and Facebook—“create[s] social channels where people can connect in a meaningful way,” she said.

SHRM findings from an online survey conducted in July and August 2013 with 600 U.S. employees who are SHRM members back that up.

“Creating a more pleasant working environment through relationships with co-workers can increase employee satisfaction,” according to SHRM’s Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Survey report. “Although only two out of five (41%) employees felt that their relationship with co-workers was very important to their job satisfaction, employees were generally satisfied with these relationships (73%).”

Millennials and Work Friends

Workplace friendships are especially important to Millennials, according to a survey LinkedIn and CensusWide conducted in April 2014 with 11,500 full-time professionals surveyed in 14 countries.

More than any other age demographic, the 18- to 24-year-olds said friendships make them happier, more motivated and more competitive, and one-third think socializing with colleagues helps them move up in their career. By comparison, only 5 percent of Baby Boomers ages 55 to 65 share this feeling.

Additionally, 46 percent of all respondents that LinkedIn and CensusWide surveyed think having friends at work make them happier and 51 percent overall keep in touch with former colleagues.

Not everyone agrees with placing such an importance on workplace friendships. Naveed Anwar, assistant professor of management science and MBA program manager at the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology at the Larkana campus in Pakistan, says work friendships “have no meaning.”

“Your position, the power you have, and our ability to help people in their problem times and many other motives would define the so-called ‘friends’ at [the] workplace”—and when that changes, “you get the real images of people around you,” he said in the SHRM LinkedIn discussion.

LinkedIn’s survey did find that more than two-thirds (68 percent) of Millennials would sacrifice a friendship with a colleague for a promotion; 62 percent of Baby Boomers said they would do this.

“Workplace relationships are ever-changing and an important factor in shaping both office dynamics and individual job development,” said Nicole Williams, LinkedIn career expert, in a news release.

“This means that creating an office culture that resonates across generations, roles and personalities is a critical factor in building a successful working environment.”

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News. Follow her on Twitter at KathyGurchiek@SHRMwriter.​

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