How to resurrect the work best friend

A person who has social connections at their job is 50% more likely to stay there, according to a recent report from Korn Ferry. But in the remote and hybrid work worlds, corporate camaraderie is increasingly hard to curate. 

A recent Gallup poll found that only 2 in 10 people have a best friend at work; for those age 35 and under, that figure has dropped 25% since 2019. There are fewer employees in-office than ever — and those who do work in person are less likely to socialize during their shifts, turning their attention to Zoom calls and social media. 

Paradoxically, people — especially members of younger generations — still crave meaningful relationships at work. The desire for connection has not changed with time or work venue, and even those who advocate for work-from-home setups could benefit from stronger relationships with colleagues. 

Companies benefit from a tight-knit community, too; culture is believed to drive a third of company profits, according to Korn Ferry. Those who have friends at work share ideas more often, are more efficient, and are more engaged with customers.

But despite companies' efforts, the current work environment is not conducive to friendship formation. People still require frequent 30- to 60-minute social interactions to connect on a deeper level, and it takes around 40 to 60 hours for a casual friendship to form. Lunch rooms are unstructured and distracting; lunch speakers leave little time for chatter. 

Employees need designated spaces where they actually want to stay after work and mingle — and companies should designate HR leaders to craft these connection points, according to Robin Dunbar, PhD, DSc, a psychologist at the University of Oxford in England. From weekly barbeques to bar-style "lobby lounges," colleagues connect best in smaller groups separate from the bustle of the workday. 

"In the end, the best advice is that you need people whose job it is to make friendships possible," Dr. Dunbar said. But he believes that HR leaders have been "ground into a vortex of box-checking, fearing lawyers and avoiding government fines."

If HR leaders were given the time and bandwidth to create friendship touchpoints, "their value to the organization would be many times the salaries you're paying," Dr. Dunbar said. 

Read the full Korn Ferry report here.

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