The science of happiness – why relationships at work matter

balancing work and relationships, couple working on laptops togetherbalancing work and relationships, couple working on laptops together

One of the hardest things we all had to cope with during the pandemic was not seeing our friends and family.

It really highlighted how important relationships are to our happiness and wellbeing. Over the last twenty years numerous studies has shown that the quality of social relationships is the most important predicator of our health and longevity. What’s between us is as important as what’s within us. We feel good when we support each other or show kindness to others. We work harder when we work in synchrony.

Yet people often question why we measure friendship at work, what we call Connect.  My answer is that you go to work eight hours a day. Colleagues can become friends who energize us; they can make us feel better about ourselves and we form lasting friendships at work. They can also be highly functional at the organizational level. People will help friends in ways that they wouldn’t help colleagues.

We recommend that companies spend more time cultivating friendships between their people.

Beyond COVID, you need to get to know the person behind the colleague. Understand something about their life, and other interests and pressures outside of work. That’s something that really builds connection. There needs to be time for talk that’s not work-related. It doesn’t need to be 100% of the time but getting to know people is important.

There are simple ways that companies can help facilitate friendships that don’t cost anything. Friendships are about small interactions. You don’t make friends with a whole group of people at one time. You go to a party, and you’ll pick off one or two people and you’ll start talking to them.

Using both online and physical exchanges companies can encourage friendships to develop. For example, designing spaces for people to bump into each other, or in today’s growing hybrid world, regular online meetings and workshops. This is particularly important for introverts. Extroverts naturally find it easier to make friendships at work. Introverts find it harder. They tend to rely on proximity and frequency of speaking to people, sitting by someone else’s desk or booking an online coffee.

Companies should try and find ways that are inclusive, especially now with hybrid working. If you start saying, “Oh, let’s go for drinks after work” that may exclude people working remotely or those with young children. Think about how you can include everybody meeting in-person and online. And be prepared to watch out for in-and-out-groups. You could get a team that’s very well-bonded but sets itself against other teams. The best thing is when teams connect well with other teams, and they don’t split the company into sub-groups.

As we come out of pandemic, let’s remember that relationships are a key part of work that make us both happier and more productive.

Nic MarksAbout the author

Nic Marks is a Happiness Expert, Statistician and the CEO of Friday Pulse™ – the developer of the FridayOne Happiness Test.


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