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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, May 24, 2010

Workplace friendships can come at a cost, study finds


By Anita Bruzzese

While research shows that workplace friendships result in higher job satisfaction among employees, having buddies on the job has a dark side, a new study says.

"You hear all these positive things about how friendships at work can build morale, and that's true but they can be bad for work because they can cause us to avoid getting work done," says Jessica Methot, an assistant professor at Rutgers University.

When she was at the University of Florida, Methot studied colleague relationships and found those who worked with people considered "friends" engaged in "more whining and gossiping and complaining."

"In other words, these friends really didn't help one another be more productive," she said.

The need to socialize with a friend at work even if it means going to another area of a company is something that managers need to be aware of when looking at work teams, Methot said.

"There are implications for companies that want companywide team efforts. If you help all these people become friends, what kind of distraction is that going to be when they're in different departments and they want to get together?" she said.

Methot said that when speaking with participants in her survey, workers revealed they often had not considered the dynamics of their workplace relationships or how friendships affected their job or productivity.

"When employees think about not being able to get their jobs done, they think in terms of it being the fault of a supervisor or the Internet going down. They hadn't really thought about their friends at work," she said.

Still, Methot said friendships overall are more positive than negative for the workplace.

"I think what surprised me was how workplace friendships among peers really provided support. An employee was much more likely to ask questions of a friend about how to do something. And they also got emotional support the friends were more empathetic about what the person was going through," Methot said.

At the same time, Methot provides a warning about workplace friendships: They can get rocky when one friend is promoted over another. "We are much more likely to compare ourselves to them, and we may feel that we deserved it, not them," she said.

Anita Bruzzese is author of "45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy ... and How to Avoid Them," www.45things.com. Write to her c/o: Gannett ContentOne, 7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, VA 22107. For a reply, include a SASE.