Work friendships are the secret weapon of workforce engagement strategies. Given that people spend an average of 50 hours a week at work, it's important to like the people who surround you.

Harvard research found that while it can be somewhat tricky to navigate workplace friendships, ultimately it's worth it. Companies reported higher productivity, engagement, and retention from employees who felt emotionally connected to their co-workers than those that stuck to themselves. 

Officevibe conducted a study on the impact of work friendships and found strong evidence that close friendships at work are essential to personal happiness and career success:

  • 70% of employees said friendships at work is the most crucial element to a happy working life. 
  • 74% of women surveyed said they would refuse a higher paying job if it meant working with difficult people. 58% of men said the same thing. 
  • 50% of employees that have a best friend at work reported that they feel a close connection to their company. 
  • 25% of employees reported an increase in morale for simple initiatives that encouraged collaboration, such as larger lunch tables.
  • 1/3 of employees surveyed said they met one of their closest friends at work. 

Office Friendships Decline with Age

The youngest workers are much more focused on workplace friendships. Generation Z'ers and millennials (between the age of 18 and 30) reported the highest percentage of workplace friendships (62%), while people in their early-to-mid 50s reported the lowest rates (50%).

This may be attributed to position, levels of responsibility, and competing personal demands at home, such as childcare or eldercare. 

Strategies to Create Strong Friendships

In honor of International Friendship Day, here are 5 ways you can intentionally cultivate stronger work friendships to boost your own happiness and engagement levels. 

  1. Have an open mind. It's comfortable and easy to seek out people who are just like us. Co-workers may be in similar roles, may be around the same age, or be at similar life stages. These factors are great starting points for friendships. However, possibilities for connection exist beyond what is right in front of us. It's important to remove blinders or unconscious bias so that we are open to all possible friendships. 
  2. Attend or organize after-hour events. Create the social connections you want by getting involved. If your company doesn't regularly organize events, take initiative. 
  3. Create an internal "club" that encourages collaboration. Mid-day events give employees the opportunity to take a break from their work and engage with co-workers on a different level. Ideas include a walking club, a book club, or a lunch-and-learn in which employees present on topics of their choosing. 
  4. Join a planning committee. At my first company Information Experts, we had a Good Times Committee. The committee members were responsible for planning a year-long calendar of social events. Sign up to organize a holiday event (Halloween Party, Thanksgiving Pot Luck, Holiday Party, etc.).
  5.  Get online. Get engaged in any online platforms that bring employees together. Many companies use Yammer or have closed Facebook and LinkedIn groups.

Finally, don't be shy, and be careful of negative self-talk. Chances are you have more in common with your employees than you may initially realize, but you will never know for sure if you keep to yourself.