Work Friends: Where would we be without them?

How do we really feel about our colleagues?

We spend almost one third of our lives at work, side by side with our colleagues. But how many of them would we consider friends, what do we expect from those friendships, and - working apart for so long - how have the events of the past year changed this?

To find out, Rovva, a virtual offices provider asked 1,000 UK workers about their relationships with colleagues, socialising at work, and whether a work friend can ever be a real friend.

Five colleagues huddled

Our lives are happier when we have friends at work.

Person jumping
66 %

of people surveyed said that their work friendships were important to their overall happiness.

…and we’re more successful in our roles

Person trying to work at desk
72 %

said they’re more productive at work when they can consider their colleagues to be friends.

Dream team

Feeling comfortable and relaxed around our colleagues is essential for collaboration and lets creativity flow more freely, so it’s no wonder that friendships make some of the best working relationships.

But how many friends do we need?

Four friends on a sofa

It might be slightly more - or less - than you think, but on average we have just over 4 friends at work. This is slightly higher for men than women (4.5 vs 4).

Looking for the friendliest workplace? People working in Sales, Media & Marketing and HR report the highest number of colleagues as friends - 5 on average, while those working in Law said they had the fewest - less than 3.

And how strong are those ties?

33 %

…of us have actually stayed at a job we dislike because we had friends there. This shows just how strong these connections can be and how important work friendships are to our day-to-day job satisfaction.

Your boss is more likely to see you as a friend (than you do!)

58 %

…of people say they’re friends with someone they manage, while only 46% would class themselves as being friends with their boss.

The only industry to buck the trend is Sales, Media and Marketing, where an incredible 70% of workers say they class their boss as a friend.

IT bosses are the most likely to say they’re friends with someone they manage (69%), while the fewest manager employee friendships occur in Travel and Transport.

Do we make friends to get ahead?

30 % of us say we’ve had a fake friendship at work to help our career progression.

Women
33%
Men
26%

And are our friendships contained just to the workplace?

75 %

…of those asked reported that they socialised with work friends outside of work, nurturing these friendships with quality time while they’re off the clock.

See you on the weekend

socialise on weekends

Thankfully, for most of us work friendships are about more than just work. While weeknight socialising is generally considered the norm among work friends, a quarter of people said they actually socialised with work friends on weekends too!

Women were slightly more likely than men to socialise with their colleagues overall, and 16% more likely to socialise with them on weekends.

23 % Socialise on weeknights

What about social media?

Who makes the cut?

% who add work friends on social media

Region % who add work friends on social media
North East 73%
West Midlands 72%
Greater London 69%
Yorkshire and the Humber 67%
North West 63%
South East 62%
Scotland 62%
Wales 62%
South West 61%
East Midlands 60%
East of England 57%
Northern Ireland 45%

Arguably, ending up on someone’s list of social media friends means a slightly more privileged level of friendship. At the very least, it gives you a greater degree of communication with them outside of work.

Those working in the North East are most likely to receive a friend request, while Northern Ireland workers are the least likely to make it official on social media.

Appearances can be deceptive though, as Northern Ireland workers keep their work friendships the longest after leaving a job, committing to it for an impressive 8 years!

Just how deep do we get with each other?

It’s a strange dilemma. Some people choose not to discuss personal matters with a work friend, preferring not to mix business with their personal life, while others feel a benefit from speaking openly to their work friends about all aspects of their lives.

So, what do you divulge?

We asked workers in different sectors to tell us what’s open for discussion within a workplace friendship to find out how deep and meaningful we get with them.

Work Family Health Friendships Relationships Mental Health Finances
All 28 % 25 % 22 % 20 % 20 % 17 % 11 %
Architecture, Engineering & Building 19 % 26 % 23 % 19 % 21 % 15 % 11 %
Arts & Culture 21 % 25 % 4 % 8 % 13 % 13 % 13 %
Education 37 % 33 % 30 % 24 % 25 % 18 % 13 %
Finance 29 % 23 % 27 % 24 % 20 % 22 % 15 %
Healthcare 38 % 26 % 24 % 17 % 22 % 15 % 9 %
HR 15 % 31 % 31 % 31 % 23 % 23 % 23 %
IT & Telecoms 16 % 21 % 21 % 21 % 24 % 16 % 21 %
Legal 15 % 20 % 25 % 15 % 15 % 20 % 20 %
Manufacturing & Utilities 25 % 20 % 18 % 16 % 16 % 12 % 12 %
Retail, Catering & Leisure 31 % 22 % 23 % 24 % 20 % 19 % 8 %
Sales, Media & Marketing 36 % 34 % 23 % 30 % 27 % 18 % 14 %
Travel & Transport 18 % 15 % 15 % 20 % 15 % 13 % 4 %
Other 26 % 27 % 18 % 18 % 17 % 16 % 8 %
Choose a sector:
Choose sectors:

Financial matters are more private than mental health

Naturally, work gripes were the biggest topic up for discussion in workplace friendships. After all, who understands your work woes better?

But, surprisingly, overall people were least likely to confide about finances. Less likely in fact, than they were to discuss their mental health.

Stranger still, in HR, IT & Telecoms and the Legal professions, the reverse is true - people were actually more likely to confide about their finances and their mental health than their work, possibly due to the confidential nature of much of their work.

Most private

Arts & Culture

They’re less likely to discuss health, friendships, relationships and mental health than the average person.

Most open

Sales, Media and Marketing

They’re more likely to discuss family, relationships, health, friendships, mental health and finances than the average person.

Has lockdown affected our workplace friendships?

Over half the people we surveyed had started a new job under social distancing conditions, so we asked how this had impacted their work friendships.

41 %

have found it difficult to make friends at work under the new conditions.

80 %

felt that their colleagues had made them welcome.

Despite the difficulties workers have faced making friends without the benefit of physical interactions, it’s not all bad. 57% said they had met up with a colleague in friendly circumstances, either in real life or virtually (e.g. over Zoom).

We miss lunchtime with friends the most

The majority of us miss at least one of the things we used to do with our work friends while we wait to get back to ‘normal’ - or whatever the ‘new normal’ turns out to be.

But possibly the best part of the working day - lunchtime with work friends - is the most missed work activity with over a third of people pining for them. This is followed by out-of-work events, like after work drinks.

Most missed work activities

Going for lunch 35 %
Out-of-work Socialising 33 %
Work Events 21 %
Chatting in the kitchen 20 %
Out-of-work Hobbies 14 %

But these friendships are built to last

6 years is the average time we stay in touch with a work friend after we’ve left a job, and that’s pretty good going when you consider that the average duration of a regular friendship is 10 years.

Conclusion

While how we approach our work friendships varies around the country, it’s clear these relationships matter deeply to our personal happiness as well as our productivity in the workplace.

If the future of work is going to include flexible arrangements, one of the challenges will be how to preserve the benefits of workplace social relationships when, for some of us, there may be no workplace at all.

In the past year many have already had a taste of what it’s like to start and maintain work friendships entirely remotely: maybe going for a virtual drink after work is all part of the new normal.

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