A pal of mine here at work told me I needed to spruce up the top of this column a bit.
Whether or not my editor agrees, the Gallup Organization says that just the fact that I have a workplace friend to bounce an idea off means my company is better off than places where employees don't have someone like that.
The Gallup Organization has for years studied how employee attitudes relate to workplace performance. One of its recent measures is called the Q12, a list of 12 pertinent statements that employees rate from "strongly disagree" to "strongly agree." The higher the employee's rating on a question, the more engaged in work the employee is, goes the thinking.
Employees who are fully engaged say they strongly agree with these statements:
I know what is expected of me at work. I have materials and equipment I need. I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day. I have received recognition for doing good work in the last seven days. My supervisor cares about me as a person. There is someone at work who encourages my development. My opinions seem to count. The mission of my company makes me feel my job is important. My associates are committed to doing quality work. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress. During the last year, I had opportunities to learn and grow. I have a best friend at work.
A best friend at work? What is this? High school?
Work is a place where people "have a concentrated, invested percentage of time together," said Curt Coffman, a global practice leader with Gallup. And having a good friend at work is "positive in terms of multiplying one's productivity."
Having a work friend also lowers turnover and creates a safer environment, he said. While creating these 12 statements, Coffman flew to a manufacturing plant in Texarkana. "Did you guys know that having a best friend at work significantly correlates to safety incidents?" he asked a group of men on the shop floor.
He got a sort of "no duh" response.
"Son, if the guy that goes walking across the floor not wearing safety goggles is a best buddy of mine, I say, 'Get your damn goggles on,' " one of the men said to him. "If I don't know him, I won't say it."
There are three kinds of people we encounter at work, Coffman said. The first is the engaged employee who feels he or she is in the right job, is managed well and is productive. The second type is the employee who is not engaged. He or she is just holding on and doing the minimum amount of work necessary. Finally, there is the actively disengaged employee who is not only unhappy but actually acting out that unhappiness.
What Gallup found was that only 8 percent of those without a good work pal are engaged in their jobs; 63 percent of them are not engaged, and 29 percent are actively disengaged.
People who have a best friend at work don't experience less stress, but they have a way to move through that stress in a much healthier and more productive manner, Coffman said. It's not just about whine sessions. It's about talking through a problem with someone you trust. I know I've had my share of quick coffee klatches in the cafeteria that have helped me get back to work with a clearer head.
"When you ask employees whether or not they have a best friend, you're asking them in part to what extent do they trust their co-workers," said Nancy Hammond, the global process leader for employee engagement at Owens Corning. The company has conducted the Q12 survey for three years running. If you trust a co-worker, that means you are more likely to be open about your objectives, she said. You will be willing to take more risks and share information, which leads to better ideas and better results, Hammond said. "Employees also feel more free to speak up without fear of looking incompetent in the eyes of a leader or co-workers," she said.
And, yes, Hammond has a best friend -- in fact several -- at work. She leans on her friends to "calibrate my thinking," she said. She shares her ideas to measure whether her friends think those ideas will fly. "We help make each other better in our performance at work," she said.
Kenneth Settel, a clinical instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and an organizational consultant, acknowledges that it's normal to form friendships in just about any environment, especially work, where we spend about a third of our lives. But Settel said work best friends can hinder the workplace as well. Some friendships "don't make for good working relationships," he said. "There is a tendency to regress away from the work task to the social task."
Friendships can also be a root of other problems. A subordinate/boss friendship can cause favoritism issues. And, Settel said, it can be the root of extramarital affairs.
Workplace friendships can also serve a regressive function, he said. "You and I will bond together against [the company]. It skews the organization so that they become the enemy," Settel said.
All true possibilities. But the reality is there's really no way to thwart the fact that friendships happen.
"We have an acceptance of the reality that people are working long hours, work very hard. . . . I just think it makes common sense that if I like these people, I will be more satisfied and more engaged at work," said Mike Rude, vice president of human resources at Stryker Corp., a medical products company based in Kalamazoo, Mich., that has been doing the Q12 survey for eight years.
Yes, we may be a little distracted if we have so many friends in the office we would rather hit a happy hour than create our next hot PowerPoint presentation. But, said Coffman, "work is a social institution; we are social animals. So how can you say, 'Drop that at work'?"
I don't think that is an option.
Join Amy Joyce from 11 a.m. to noon Tuesday at www.washingtonpost.com to discuss your life at work. You can e-mail her at email@example.com.