In the past 24 hours, two people have suggested I address the always tricky issue of office friendships. There is so much to say about this: Do we even want office BFFs? How do you take a workplace friendship to the next level? What happens when you don’t work together anymore—can the friendship survive? I think about this a lot because (aside from the fact that I think about all BFF-related issues a lot) the office is the grown-up version of the sandbox or summer camp. It’s the only natural breeding ground for friends once you’re out of school, and given the sheer number of hours Americans spend at the office each week, our coworkers are like family, for better or for worse.
So, for now, I’ll start with question one: Do we even want office friendships?
“Don’t mix business with pleasure” used to be the way of the world. Companies discouraged employees from “fraternizing” (such business jargon)… God forbid their water cooler talk take away from the number crunching. These days, however, I think most office workers have at least one on-the-job BFF. There are plenty of reasons why this could be the case. Clearly, as the amount of time we spend in the office increases, our exposure to potential friends outside the workplace decreases. Worker bees today (or the ones aged, perhaps, 20-50) are so plugged in to social networks that the lines distinguishing work from life have blurred quite a bit. Plus, there are so many more distractions these days – Perez, YouTube, Facebook – that we need someone to turn to, like now, when the breaking news of Jon and Kate’s split hits People.com.
But here’s what’s really fascinating: According to Tom Rath’s Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without, people who report having a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their job. (This is based on more than 8 million responses to a Gallup poll about office friendships.) According to the book research, which was published in 2006, only 30% of employees reported having a work BFF, but those who didn’t basically had no chance of feeling engaged during the workday.
This is especially interesting to me because I have not one but four office BFFs. Ours is a merry little gang – we get lunch together everyday, gather around the coffeepot (me with Diet Coke in hand) every morning for TV recaps, and obnoxiously decorate cubicles when one of us gets married (I now sit in front of a life size High School Musical poster). I could—and likely will—write an entire ode to The Transformers (that’s what we call ourselves… a discussion for another time), as they are not just my work BFFs but probably my closest friends in Chicago. After all, I started at my office not long after I moved out here, so they are the people I know best and certainly the ones I spend the most time with. But does having four best friends at work mean I am 28 times more engaged in my job? Debatable.
Rath’s research does say that people with at least three close friends at work are 96% more likely to be extremely satisfied with their lives. It’s hard for me to say whether or not this applies to me, since I’ve never experienced my job without the work friends. But if someone were to ask me if I’m extremely satisfied with my life, the answer would be yes, BFF not withstanding. When this search is over and I have a new BFF or four, then I will be super-extremely satisfied.