You Schmooze, You Win

Those rehashings of American Idol with your office buddies are actually good for productivity.

Your research shows that people who have a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged on the job. Why?

Tom Rath, head of research and leadership consulting at the Gallup Organization, whose new book, Vital Friends (Gallup Press, 2006), draws on more than 8 million interviews: Close relationships and friendships are the single most important human need when it comes to our satisfaction with life. When people leave an organization after a short time, they often talk about how they weren't able to connect with someone. On the flip side, there is something about those relationships that keeps people in jobs, too. We talked to a woman who was an executive at a nonprofit. She decided she was going to quit. That Sunday, her best friend from work called and talked about how much he valued her friendship. She ended up staying there several more years.

So how do you make friends at work?

TR: One key that we have found is to have very clear expectations about who does what. Figure out who you go to when you need sage advice, and go to that person. I also think it is important to latch onto new people. One company had a requirement that all new employees sit down with people in their work groups and spend the first hour talking about their lives. A lot of times, a new person will end up sitting in his office hoping someone will ask him to lunch.

That sounds creepy, jumping on the new guy.

TR: I agree. If you explicitly say you need to make a best friend at work, it is probably going to have the opposite effect. It's really about the informal things.

Some companies discourage friendships for fear they may turn romantic. Is that legit?

TR: Many people contend men and women can't have friendships because there is always some kind of romantic quotient. I just don't think that is right. Fewer than 10% of people say they are very apprehensive about close relationships with someone of the opposite sex. Given that people spend more than half of their waking life at the office, they are going to have romantic relationships at times. Of course, it can cause conflicts of interest if you are dating your boss.

What about making friends with your boss?

TR: When we look at what people enjoy in a given day, time with friends comes out at the very top of the list. At the very bottom is time spent with the boss. That's rated just below cleaning the house. [But] when we ask people if they have a close relationship with their boss, that doubles the chances of someone being engaged on the job and being more productive.

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