How Work BFFs Make Your Employees More Engaged—And Your Company More Profitable

Empathy, positive reinforcement, and other "soft skills" contribute in a significant way to the very real bottom line at an organization. So help your employees build relationships.

This post goes out to a certain coworker who had a desk near mine for five years and was always good for a laugh, a coffee run, or a sympathetic ear.

We've all heard about the "work spouse," but perhaps a better formulation is the "work best friend." If your employees don't know each other well or have warm relationships, their engagement is likely to suffer, and with it, the company's productivity. A new major meta-analysis from Gallup provides strong evidence for this view.

This new study examined the results of separate studies covering 192 organizations with 1.3 million employees. They related employee engagement to 9 different business outcomes ranging from customer loyalty, to profitability, to product quality.

The conclusion: Business/work units scoring in the top half on employee engagement nearly double their odds of success compared with those in the bottom half. Those at the 99th percentile, with the most engaged employees of all, have four times the success rate as those at the first percentile.

That's all well and good, but what does employee engagement really mean? Definitions of engagement can be quite squishy and variable from survey to survey, but Gallup researchers have developed a measurement, dubbed Q12, that is cross-validated and field tested. Among the 12 statements that employees must rate as 5 (strongly agree) through 1 (strongly disagree), are these four: "My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person." "There is someone at work who encourages my development." "In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work" and the aforementioned "I have a best friend at work."

These statements have a warm and fuzzy thread connecting them. They all speak to the importance of empathy, positive reinforcement, and other "soft skills" to the very real bottom line at an organization.

The researchers tie each of these statements to a suggested course of action by managers. For example, managers should strive to listen to employee needs, the better to connect them to the needs of the organization; build trust by supporting risk-taking; help individuals align talents with the group's broader interests; and at the basic level, create opportunities and leave space for employees to get to know each other better, both within and outside of work.

[Cups Image: Fotofermer via Shutterstock]

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  • David Bowles, Ph.D.

    Anya, I think there is a bit of confusion about this (controversial) Gallup question about a BFF....Gallup's analysis, which is extensive, shows that engaged workers score quite high on this question. That does not mean that having a BFF creates an engaged worker, it is simply a correlation.  Most likely is the fact that the type of person who chooses to engage is also someone who easily makes good friends at work, and elsewhere....or it could be that the work environment is friendly and warm enough that it encourages the formation of these kinds of bonds.

    I was trying to think of a medical example to make this clear, and I think the aspirin one comes somewhat close:  aspirin treats headache, but the headache was not caused by lack of aspirin.  BFFs show up in the lives of highly engaged workers, but low engagement is not "caused" by lack of a BFF!

    Thanks for the chance to comment on some interesting points....

    co-author, The High Engagement
    Work Culture:  Balancing ME and WE (Macmillan,

  • Steven Lock


    I believe you are right.

    Having a best friend at work does not mean you will be more engaged in your work. But those who are already more engaged in their work usually have good friends at work.

    Based on my observations and experiences, those who are more engaged at work usually have a certain positive persona and aura about them that somehow also attracts people to them, and this includes attracting likeminded people, who are also engaged in their work. THis then forms an emotional connection that drives them to become even more engaged in their work because they share very similar values, beliefs, interests and motivations.

    Author of Hiring for Performance: The CAAP(R) Model to Hiring and Building High Performance Teams.

  • guest

    Great article. Any suggestions on how best to measure engagement, or any tools you think do a good job? We like but would love to hear about what else is out there and the specific measures they use.