Everybody needs somebody. (Yes, even you, Mr./Ms. I'm-So-Introverted-Gatherings-Make-Me-Nervously-Sweat.) And experts now say that the crux of great business is connection and relationship. So just how many hours do you have to put in before people around you trust you and consider you a friend?

Anybody got a few years?

Jeffrey Hall, communication researcher at the University of Kansas, conducted two similar studies to figure this out. The first study surveyed 355 individuals who had moved in the last six months and who were looking for new friends. It asked respondents to rate new relationships as acquaintance, casual, friend and close, and to draw some associations between activities, hours spent together and the degree of closeness. From those ratings, Hall roughly estimated the points where people transitioned from one relationship rank to another. Hall double checked his results with a second study of 112 students from the University of Kansas.

Looking at the results of both pieces of work, Hall found that it took

  • 40-60 hours to form a casual friendship,
  • 80-100 hours to become a friend, and
  • 200+ hours to become a good friend.

So let's break this down a little. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2017 Time Use Survey (released June 2018), people socialize with others an average of just 39 minutes a day. So if you're looking for a casual friend, you have to spend about two months (61.5 days) winning them over. And that's assuming you're spending time with that same person every day. More realistically, you might hang out with a new person once or twice a week. That means it could take you more than a year to start feeling connected to somebody. If you want a deep friendship, best buddy style, you might be looking at more than five years.

And, as Hall points out, you can't just be spewing niceties about the weather, either--you have to be laughing together, sharing intimacies and conversing beyond superficial chatter. So tack on a little extra time to account for that, too, especially if you're in a region where people tend to have harder shells. (I'm personally dealing with the famous "Minnesota Nice", for example, where people will bend over backwards to help strangers change a tire but take until you're gray-haired to state a personal preference.)

Clearly, forming connections is not a quick-fix deal.

5 actionable friendship takeaways for your work

  1. If you want a close-knit team to develop as quickly as is realistically possible, offer as many socialization opportunities as you can each week. Don't back off after just a few events, and since not everyone will want or be able to come to everything, offer lots of variety.
  2. Don't assume that someone is a bad fit if they're still feeling their way into groups weeks or even months into joining.
  3. People can be resistant to change in groups simply because it alters established relationship dynamics. Be prepared for this resistance, which can increase time necessary for friendships to develop, and do what you can to help others see that newbies aren't a threat. Be an advocate and model inclusivity.
  4. Be realistic about the people you meet at conferences, seminars or other periodic events. These individuals can be enormously helpful as teachers and resource providers, but it's not going to be easy to get to know them enough to really consider them friends. The right long-distance relationship can be worth it, but if you have your eye on someone as a potential mentor, aim with the long haul in mind.
  5. You might need to place a larger emphasis on self-care as you establish relationships. Interaction benefits physical and mental wellbeing, but new people have to have a way to compensate and stay healthy until they can reap those advantages. Make sure you or other newbies have the resources necessary to recover fast so everyone can get back into interacting quickly, and make sure that they're not overdoing work hours in a bid to initially impress.
  6. Job hopping is more acceptable now, with most millennials planning to stay at a position no more than three years. Because relationships take time to build, do everything you can to incentivize people to stay put long enough for at least casual friendships to develop, whether that's higher pay/benefits, a bigger range of career options or constant opportunities to learn and innovate. Ultimately, this will result in greater synergy, stability and happier teams. If your business has high turnover by nature, understand that you'll have to fight harder for even deeper connections.

Friends are precious, and in our quick-fix society, it can feel like it's just too much work to carve out great relationships. But remember, you're not required to have a million connections. In fact, more work by Hall suggests the brain really can handle only about 150 relationships. So don't worry about quantity or making friends with everybody. Focus on quality so you get the deep bonds that actually help you personally and professionally. After all, if you've only got 39 minutes today, it's smart to spend it where the odds of a good return are high.