Why You Need Friends at Work

Making friends at work is good for your health.
By Jamie Ducharme for TIME, adapted by YHJ editors
As seen on
two people with laptops facing one another

Only about 20% of adults in the United States say they have a best friend at work. Do the other 80% need to start looking for one?

One thing is certain: Social support in the workplace is important for health and well-being. Catherine Heaney is a psychology professor at Stanford University, in California. She researches the relationship between work and health. Heaney says social support can come from a coworker who has become a close friend. But interactions with supervisors and friendly acquaintances can also boost your well-being. 

Why Social Support at Work Matters

Constance Hadley is an organizational psychologist at Boston University. “People will say, ‘Oh, I don’t need social relationships at work, that’s not important to me,’” she says. “I would argue they should rethink that.”

Research on the topic is clear: Having friends in the workplace boosts job satisfaction and performance. And it improves wellness. It has been linked to a lower risk of burnout, better mental health, and maybe even a longer life.

The research is also clear that loneliness is bad for your health. And many people are lonely at work. Hadley’s research found that 76% of business executives found it hard to make connections with coworkers.

People spend a lot of time at their jobs. The average employed American works almost eight hours a day. That’s why workplace loneliness can’t be ignored. 

The goal isn’t necessarily to make lifelong friends. It’s great if you do. But what’s important is having a sense that you’re in the right place and part of a community with a larger purpose. 

How to Make Friends at Work

Start small. Hadley’s research suggests knowing a few people fairly well has a stronger effect than having shallow relationships with lots of people. If you like a coworker but don’t know the person well, ask an appropriate personal question. Brainstorm. Or ask for a coworker’s thoughts on an assignment you’re working on. 

It’s easy to talk yourself out of making these gestures, Heaney says. But don’t. One study found that people were happier when they chatted with strangers on the train on the way to work. This could mean that people who make the first social move “are much more likely to be received positively” than they expect, Heaney says. 

And employers can foster environments where workers feel like they’re part of a community. They can bring people of different backgrounds together outside of their jobs, perhaps through volunteer activities. During meetings, managers could allow time for conversations unrelated to work. 

Gatherings are important, Hadley says. They strengthen the bonds between coworkers. So if you’re invited to an after-work event, go. You might be glad you did. You’ll get to know your coworkers better. After all, they’re the people with whom you’ll be spending a large chunk of your waking hours.