The late psychologist and entrepreneur Donald Clifton, who founded Gallup, a company that focuses on finding the best employees for companies, was very keen on measuring friendships at work. Why? Because studies show that those with best friends at work tend to be more focused, loyal and passionate. They also get sick less often, have fewer accidents and are not as likely to leave their jobs. On top of that, their customers tend to be more satisfied.
In a study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Minnesota, researchers asked one class’s students to seek other students with whom they had a “close interpersonal relationship” with. From there, the researchers put the students in small groups made up of either close friends or acquaintances. They then had the groups complete two different assignments. One of the assignments involved collaborating together on making decisions and the other the groups build models that required repetitive manual labor.
The researchers found that those who were put in groups with close friends completely outperformed teams who were teamed up with acquaintances. They saw that friends were more committed to the project from the start, showed better communication with each other and were encouraging toward each other from start to finish. They were also more critical of each other and weren’t shy to give each other feedback. When it came to groups made up of acquaintances, they saw that each individual preferred working alone and didn’t communicate with each other unless absolutely necessary. They were also more uncomfortable asking each other for more help and giving feedback to each other. Simply put: They just didn’t work well together as one unit.
Lesson learned: Aside from the clear personal issues that could get in the way, it appears that the positive aspects of working with a close friend in business outweighs the potential negatives. Work-life integration is something that Zappos founder Tony Hsieh cites as a reason for his business’ success:
“There are companies that focus on work-life separation or work-life balance and at Zappos we really focus on work-life integration and at the end of the day it’s just life … and especially if you spend so much time at work you better enjoy the time that you’re spending there and people that you’re with.”
“We want the person to be the same person at home or in the office because what we’ve found is that’s when the great ideas come out, that’s when their creativity shines and that’s when true friendships are formed – not just coworker relationships. When people are in that environment, that’s when the passion comes out and that’s really what’s driven a lot of our growth over the years.”