Why having friends at work is the best thing you can do for your mental health

A recent survey of the UK workforce, has found just that; unearthing the fact that 69% of us believe our work spouses, desk buddies and teammates actually contribute to improved mental health.

A further 66% of us find workplace friendships give us increased job satisfaction and 63% are more motivated at work if they have solid friendships.

How important are your friends at work? Good for a G-chat giggle, or an after-office-hours drink? Did you ever stop and think that your work buddies could be good for your mental health?

So, having a best bud at work actually makes you…work harder? Yes! Professor Tessa Amabile and Steven Kramer of Harvard Business School, researched the topic widely and found that employees are twice as likely to be engaged if they have a best friend at work.

Dr Annie McKee, senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania and high profile leadership consultant has written a book called, rather handily, How to be Happy at Work. After years spent consulting in the public and private sectors, McKee finally wanted to write about the one thing that kept cropping up throughout her research: workplace happiness.

One of the solutions? Literally get thee some work pals.

One of the key components of her book was that we need to bust long established work myths; that you can’t be happy at work (wrong: and it actually makes you more productive) and that you can’t have friends in the office. Also wrong.

“I don’t know where that myth came from,” she says, “Of course you are friends with the people you work with – you see them all the time! It’s very important for workplace happiness.”

Bruce Paisley, author of last year’s The Joy of Work book (and host of the podcast Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat) lays out solid work relationships as a key component of, not only enjoying your job, but- crucially- not suffering work-related burnout.

Exactly, as that recent survey found that 66% of us actually enjoy our job more because of a work-based friend and a whopping 38% of us would genuinely stay in a role we didn’t like because of friendships at work.

It may sound odd, but a quick poll of my (non-work) friends revealed that most of them would agree.

“You spend most of your life there, it needs to be somewhere with people you feel happy with” said one, while another told me she actively stays in a poorly-paid role because “the team makes me happy to come to work each day – and my mental health has improved since working there.”

Indeed, some people choose work specifically based on the potential for work friendships – and avoid other roles, for the opposite reason. One old colleague told me she actively takes on freelance projects according to the team involved: “I can’t work to the best of my ability with people who make work toxic, and I know there are others who bring out the best in me- not only will I work better, but I will be happier, and that’s so important.”

Yet, with a whopping 15% of the UK workforce self-employed (that’s 180,000 more in 2019 than in 2018, just FYI) there is perhaps a worrying trend of workers working solo. So, what can they do; befriend the barista in the Starbucks where they get their flat white and WIFI? Get a lodger for their home office?

Yeah, probably not, but the abundance of workspaces – from WeWork to AllBright and SohoWorks – may be attempting to combat the lack of opportunity for workplace friends for the self-employed.

Yet what is perhaps more worrying, are the survey’s findings that Gen Z employees are actively avoiding friends at work. It shows that one third of Gen Z employees won’t socialise with colleagues because of social anxiety and a further 36% find it hard to make friends at work.

Raise your hand if you can relate? Yeah, we feel that. But these findings show that if you can push through that social anxiety, a workplace community can actually make a profound positive impact on your mental health.

So, if you’re struggling to make a pal at work, try and find a little common ground, remember that everyone gets anxious sometimes – even that most confident-seeming person in your office, and – of course – you could always send this piece to your HR department. We spy a team bonding away day in your future…

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