Why having a best friend at work might be the key to job satisfaction

Office besties look out for each other’s emotional well-being as well as career growth, experts say

Having a best friend at work can keep you professionally motivated and content on a personal level. Getty Images
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Quick, think of a quasi-inspiring quote about work.

Chances are you picked one of the many iterations of: “If you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life.” Or, as Steve Jobs put it: “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

We can thank quotes such as these, the inflated celebration of the people behind them and the odd romanticisation of hustle culture for making us believe that chasing our passions is the only way to find job satisfaction.

After all, where else are you going to find it? In a great compensation package? A work-life balance? The people you work with?

Well … maybe that last one.

You’ve got a (best) friend in me

Myriad surveys – such as ones by Gallup pre-pandemic and Harvard Business Review last year – have found that having a best friend at work goes a long way in creating a positive relationship with one’s job.

Employees can be up to seven times more engaged, manage stress better, enjoy higher levels of satisfaction and be more comfortable in asserting themselves. This not only leads to better performance, but lowers the risk of burnout as well.

These benefits are specifically tied to having a work bestie (not to be confused with just any good working relationship), which touches on the psyche of relationships, says clinical psychologist Dr Robert Chandler, a director at The LightHouse Arabia.

We spend 110,000 hours at work, which is equivalent to 13 straight years
Jon Clifton, CEO of Gallup at World Government Summit in Dubai

“A best friend in the workplace provides unconditional support; where both people know each other in '3D', in their personal and professional lives. The best friend is aware of the person's strengths, qualities and faults, and there is an unwavering sense of trust and mutual support between the two.

“In essence, there is a felt sense of psychological safety with this individual.

“Generic good working relationships, on the other hand, are usually built around the job or the tasks at hand: 'We have something to accomplish, how can we work in a collaborative, respectful and personable way?’” explains Dr Chandler.

Noona Nafousi, a career and corporate leadership coach and chief executive of Neo Noor, agrees. “There's a beautiful, profound difference between having a good relationship with a colleague and having a work bestie. It's deeper, it's richer. A work bestie provides you with a safe space and a judgement-free zone where you can authentically be yourself.”

Growing successful together

From first-hand experience, a work bestie relationship is a two-way support system. You have someone to vent to, work with and find motivation from. You turn to them when you’re in need of a reality check or even if you have a “silly” question.

You look out for each other’s emotional well-being and genuinely care about one another’s career growth as well. I also found it keeps me better informed, accountable and connected to my team.

Introduce yourself on a team chat, join in on virtual social activities, share a little about your personal interests during meetings. And don't rush it
Noona Nafousi, career and corporate leadership coach

A work bestie is the equivalent of a beacon in a stormy sea of work and never-ending deadlines. And while this type of relationship has been documented in pop culture (think Meredith and Christina in Grey’s Anatomy, Jake and Charles in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Ann and Leslie in Parks & Recreation), its connection to a happier workplace has become all the more apparent in the past few years.

The Gallup survey found that not only will having a work bestie keep employees in a company longer, but they are also more likely to recommend their workplace to others.

The workplace revolution

Earlier this year at the World Government Summit in Dubai, Gallup chief executive Jon Clifton said: “The workplace is killing us. We found that 80 per cent of workers have either quietly disengaged or loudly quit because they were miserable at work.”

That’s a truth identifiable in trends such as bare minimum Monday, quiet quitting and “bore outs”. Clifton linked these to work being the one thing people spend the most time doing after sleep. “According to one estimate, we spend 110,000 hours at work, which is equivalent to 13 straight years,” he said in his panel.

The level at which work tends to overshadow our lives became painfully apparent during the pandemic, setting in motion a significant shift in worker mentality. Many moved towards self-employment, turning their passion into work that they could control, while others sought out organisations with strong work cultures, looking beyond “just a paycheck” for feelings of trust, belonging, inclusion and a commitment to work-life balance.

Some workplaces, too, are responding to these trends by offering policies such as hybrid work models, 4.5-day weeks, mental health support and menstrual leave.

With friends being another factor that can create a better work environment, how can companies help facilitate those relationships?

The making of a friend

As company onboarding doesn’t come with a BFF attached, finding a friend at work can take some work. According to Nafousi, companies can start by creating a close-knit community.

“Imagine a workplace that doesn't feel like just an office, but rather a community,” she explains. “Companies need to facilitate environments that foster connection, empathy and mutual respect. This could be through team-building exercises, creating platforms for open communication or social events that allow employees to interact outside of their day-to-day tasks.”

On an individual level, Nafousi’s advice is to start small.

“Introduce yourself on a team chat, join in on virtual social activities, share a little about your personal interests during meetings. And don't rush it,” she says. “Having the right mindset and a deep belief that you belong goes a long way.”

While having a work bestie might help you reap the most benefits of that relationship, don’t overlook the importance of building everyday relationships with colleagues as well, especially if you work remotely. Otherwise, it’s far too easy to fall into feelings of loneliness, which Dr Chandler describes as “a pervasive feeling of disconnection, often from both one's self and others”.

If left unchecked, this could “begin to impact an individual's mental and physical health, which will very likely have adverse impacts on engagement, productivity and motivation”, he adds, citing a study by the US National Institute on Ageing that compared the effects of loneliness to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.

The bottom line is even if you don’t find someone who fits the best friend bill or simply prefer to keep your work and private life separate, investing time in cultivating strong work relationships is still extremely important if you want to find more joy in what you do for a living.

Updated: September 08, 2023, 10:17 AM