Do Benefits of Workplace Friendships Outweigh Risks?

New Randstad Work Watch Survey Finds Lines Between Personal and Professional Lives Have Blurred

ATLANTA--()--A recent Conference Board study found that only 45 percent of Americans are satisfied with their jobs. So, what are the causes of job dissatisfaction? According to a new Randstad Work Watch survey of workplace friendships, conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs, it doesn’t seem to be rooted in the people with whom we spend our workdays. In fact, American workers seem to be happier at their jobs because of the friendships they cultivate with coworkers – 67 percent reported having friends at work makes their job more fun and enjoyable and 55 percent feel that these relationships make their job more worthwhile and satisfying.

“It could be the difference in career success or career suicide.”

But not all friendships are created equal. Respondents characterized these friendships in a variety of ways; 38 percent said they have colleagues they consider personal friends with whom they interact inside and outside of the workplace, 32 percent described their socializing as strictly work friends, limiting interaction to the workplace and work functions, and 17 percent characterized their workplace friendships as more a matter of necessity or convenience for work purposes or alliances.

Benefits Outweigh Risks

With many pegging the current economy for stalled career growth and salary freezes, the days of workplace competition and rivalry are being replaced by teamwork and camaraderie as American workers seem to be viewing workplace friendships as possessing more benefits than risks. When asked about the greatest benefits of workplace friendships, the top responses aligned more to workplace culture, but ultimately impact a company’s bottom line.

Which of the following do you believe are the greatest benefits of workplace friendships?
Creates a more supportive and friendly workplace   70%
Increases teamwork   69%
Increases workplace morale   56%
Increases knowledge sharing and open communication   50%
Higher job satisfaction   45%
Makes employees more motivated   36%
Reduces employee turnover   36%
Creates a stronger commitment to company/organization   32%
Increases employee engagement   31%
Increases productivity/performance   30%

When looking at results by gender, women were more likely than men to feel that workplace friendships create a more friendly and supportive atmosphere (77 percent vs. 63 percent). Likewise, women are more prone than men to view their workplace friends as personal friends they would spend leisure time with (42 percent vs. 34 percent).

“There is no denying that workplace friendships can contribute to a positive workplace culture, including increased productivity and creativity, heightened morale, enhanced personal performance and stronger team cohesiveness. Many times employees aren’t even aware that these small, but positive changes are good for their company’s overall business,” said Eileen Habelow, senior vice president of organizational development for Randstad. “It’s almost hard to not befriend coworkers given the amount of time many people spend at their jobs, whether due to the current economic climate, job responsibilities or one’s own personal work style.”

At the same time, some employees do see risks in having workplace friendships, most commonly because they feed gossip (44 percent), create favoritism (37 percent), blur professional boundaries (37 percent) or create conflicts of interest (35 percent). Fewer believe that these friendships can cause others to feel uncomfortable (26 percent), reduce productivity or performance (22 percent), reduce constructive feedback/openness (19 percent) or reduce loyalty to the company (6 percent).

While some working adults see a downside to having workplace friendships, just 12 percent felt that making friends at work was risky. “With so much at stake with developing friendships at work, employees should weigh all of the pros and cons carefully and find a comfort level that is right for them,” advised Habelow. “It could be the difference in career success or career suicide.”

Managers A Bit More Cautious

Survey respondents in manager roles have a slightly different view about workplace friendships, suggesting there could be some disconnect between managers and their employees. When asked whether they support or encourage the development of friendships in the workplace, 49 percent of managers indicated they did, while only 29 percent of non-managers felt their workplace supported these relationships.

Where benefits and risks were concerned, managers were more likely than non-managers to count a stronger commitment to the company (40 percent vs. 28 percent) and increased productivity (38 percent vs. 26 percent) among the benefits of workplace friendships. Similarly, managers were more likely than non-managers to feel that workplace friendships create conflicts of interest (41 percent vs. 33 percent) and cause other employees discomfort (33 percent vs. 22 percent). Managers also were more likely than non-managers to see a downside to workplace friendships (17 percent vs. 10 percent).

Personal, Professional Lives Blurred

The survey reports that the lines between working Americans’ personal and professional lives have blurred. One reason may be the expanded roles and responsibilities many have taken on due to layoffs and hiring freezes. Roughly a third of respondents said their family knows their friends from work (39 percent) and that they discuss personal matters with their workplace friends (32 percent). However, a similar proportion (37 percent) felt that it is smart to keep personal and professional lives separate. Not surprising, only 5 percent stated that there was no one at work that they considered to be a friend.

So what kinds of activities are appropriate with workplace friends and what kinds aren’t? According to the Work Watch survey, 72 percent of respondents said attending professional events like conventions, seminars and lectures were appropriate. However, many also felt that personal activities such as attending movies and concerts or going to bars and dinner (61 percent) and hanging out casually at one another’s home (57 percent) were proper activities. Interestingly, respondents thought it was more appropriate to “friend” one another on Facebook (46 percent) than to connect on LinkedIn (24 percent).

Respondents seemed to draw the line at vacationing together and going on romantic dates as only 19 percent and 7 percent, respectively, thought these were appropriate activities for workplace friends.

Habelow adds, “It’s always best to establish clear boundaries, keeping in mind that conversations and personal information shouldn’t be divulged, but rather kept within the circle of friendship. Likewise, maintaining personal time away from the office and away from workplace friends can be very healthy in the long run.”

Additional findings from the survey included:

  • Baby Boomers (31 percent) were more likely than Gen X workers (21 percent) or Gen Y workers (19 percent) to feel that workplace friendships can make others feel uncomfortable.
  • Men also were more likely than women (30 percent vs. 21 percent) to feel this way.
  • Just one in ten respondents (11 percent) said that if a work friend were to make a mistake, they would be more inclined to “sweep” it under the rug than if it were some other colleague.
  • The same number (11 percent) said they would side with their friend if an issue arose at work.
  • Fewer (6 percent) reported that if a workplace friend were laid off, it would impact their decision to stay with their company.

For more information please contact Holly Richmond at holly.richmond@mslworldwide.com or 404-877-5533.

Abbreviated Survey Methodology

For the survey, a national sample of 1,017 adults aged 18 and older who were currently employed from Ipsos’ U.S. online panel were interviewed online from February 1 – 5, 2010. Weighting was then employed to balance demographics and ensure that the sample's composition reflects that of the U.S. adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. A survey with an unweighted probability sample of this size and a 100% response rate would have an estimated margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points 19 times out of 20 of what the results would have been had the entire adult population of employed adults aged 18 and older in the United States had been polled.

About Randstad US

Randstad US is a wholly owned subsidiary of Randstad Holding nv, a $24 billion global provider of professional employment services and the second largest staffing organization in the world. Randstad fulfills all aspects of commercial and professional staffing for local and global customers. Services include temporary, permanent, and outsourced placement within Accounting & Finance, Engineering, Healthcare, Industrial, IT, Legal, Life Sciences, and Office. Other offerings include payrolling, managed services, recruitment process outsourcing and HR consulting solutions. Randstad provides skills assessments, career counseling, training, health coverage, paid vacation and 401(k) matching contributions to eligible internal and external employees. With its 3,300 employment experts, Randstad puts an average of 50,000 people to work in the U.S. each week through its network of more than 600 branches and client-dedicated locations. More information is available at the company’s Web site, www.us.randstad.com.

Investment information is available at www.randstad.com.

About Ipsos Public Affairs

Ipsos Public Affairs is a non-partisan, objective, survey-based research practice which conducts strategic research initiatives for a diverse number of American and international organizations, based on public opinion research. They are the international polling agency of record for Thomson Reuters, the world’s leading source of intelligent information for businesses and professionals. To learn more, visit: www.ipsos-pa.com.

Contacts

Randstad US
Holly Richmond, 404-877-5533
holly.richmond@mslworldwide.com

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