People instinctively want close, trusting relationships — at work and in life. Having a "best friend" at work contributes to a thriving employee experience and to communication, commitment and other outcomes. In fact, recent Gallup data show that having a best friend at work has become more important since the start of the pandemic, even considering the dramatic increase in remote and hybrid work.
There are several factors behind the rising importance of having a best friend at work. For many employees, the pandemic caused traumatic experiences and other profound difficulties, particularly for healthcare and other front-line workers and educators. These employees found the social and emotional support from their best friends at work to be more critical than ever to get them through these challenging times.
Recent Gallup data show that having a "best friend" at work has become more important since the start of the pandemic, even considering the dramatic increase in remote and hybrid work.
Imagine, for example, the working parent who leaned on their best friend at work (who also has a child) when the pandemic required them to juggle at-home learning and their job responsibilities. Their best friend at work offered judgment-free encouragement during the toughest storms — the kind of support that communicates, "You're not alone."
Other employees who were thrown into the world of remote or hybrid work found that their best friend at work helped keep them informed, accountable and connected to their team. For instance, an employee can ask their best friend at work "dumb" questions about changes to how things get done — without fear of embarrassment.
And when workloads are heavy, your best friend at work is someone you feel accountable to, someone you don't want to let down. As a result, you naturally want to go the extra mile for them on a project.
On the other hand, an employee without a best friend at work became that much more isolated during the pandemic. And because they lack collaboration and a sense of responsibility to a best friend at work, their performance may have dipped too.
Whether in the office or the virtual world, a best friend at work is a necessary source of connection and support.
Gallup has repeatedly shown that having best friends at work is key to employee engagement and job success. Gallup data indicate that having a best friend at work is strongly linked to business outcomes, including profitability, safety, inventory control and retention.
Employees who have a best friend at work are significantly more likely to:
Our latest findings show that since the pandemic started, there has been an even stronger relationship between having a best friend at work and important outcomes such as employees' likelihood to recommend their workplace, their intent to leave and their overall satisfaction with their workplace.
Best friends at work drive outcomes because they're more than a social connection or good relationship. A best friend at work is someone you can rely on through thick and thin. Someone who has your back and genuinely cares. These authentic friendships deepen employees' sense of ownership for their work and enable employees to be more effective and sustainable, regardless of where or when they work.
Best friends at work have played a crucial role as workplaces navigate changes, uncertainty and new ways of working. Change is here to stay, and best friends at work can keep one another informed and work together to familiarize themselves with new technologies and processes.
Unfortunately, leaders are facing significant challenges supporting connections and friendships among a physically distant workforce. In the U.S., just two in 10 employees report having a best friend at work.
In Gallup's experience working with clients, the following strategies can help promote best friends at work for in-person, remote and hybrid workers:
Intentionality starts with leaders who celebrate and champion best friends at work, from the C-suite to front-line managers. Employees learn behavioral norms and cues from their managers and leaders — and they need the "OK" from leaders to develop friendships on the job. Leaders should talk about the importance of having a best friend at work and exemplify intentionality in forming connections.
Employees at all levels need to make a concerted effort to get to know their coworkers and maintain friendships. For example, employees should make a habit of having special quick connects, maybe via video chat, to say hello and spark conversation. For hybrid workers, these quick connects might be on an office day, such as a lunch or walking meeting.
Fully remote workers with tighter schedules can reserve five minutes before a team meeting for interaction — or perhaps schedule a collaborative video chat to work on a shared project together in a virtual setting. Employees should also make a point of asking for feedback and creative support.
The key is making time to connect with colleagues wherever and however they're working to maintain relationships with best friends or develop friendships with other colleagues. Don't wait for others to come knocking; look for ways to partner with and support them.
Team structures, workflows, and other systems and practices can make or break employees' ability to develop real friendships at work. Leaders should assess how factors like performance expectations and time requirements support (or impede) having best friends at work. Do employees have time, opportunities and permission to form spontaneous connections?
Just as important, managers are responsible for promoting a local team atmosphere that encourages trust and collaboration. Wherever possible, managers should remove constraints to socialization and create an atmosphere where employees feel free and encouraged to connect and show support.
Leaders should liberate employees to pursue friendships on their own but also support their efforts with preplanned social events that give employees ample opportunities to chat, whether an off-site event or an impromptu team lunch. Scheduled friendship activities might seem like a waste of time, but this powerful investment helps every employee — even the most isolated remote workers — form real friendships.
Managers and leaders can also support connections by making time to talk to employees themselves. For instance, a 15-minute manager-employee conversation might highlight ways to pair team members on new tasks to promote friendships. Frequent conversations can also reveal barriers that preclude friendships at work.
Encouraging consistent conversation and connection is key to cultivating best friends at work. It also fuels performance excellence: Through conversation, employees who are best friends can bring their authentic selves to their work and can support one another, maintain accountability, share ideas and use their strengths to contribute to a superior product.
Communication starts with leaders setting an example — creating a culture where friendly dialogue is the norm. For instance, managers should send weekly team emails to encourage recognition, celebrate anniversaries and birthdays, and relay what everyone's working on.
To own their role, employees at all levels should maintain open lines of communication with their colleagues to show support and be available in times of need. When communication is strong, team members who are genuine friends are more likely to reach out when they're overwhelmed or struggling.
Another great practice when working remotely is to make a point of letting partners know when you're going to be unavailable or offline — as well as when your virtual door is "open." When coworkers are best friends, these habits are second nature rather than having to be managed. Best friends want to stay connected and actively reach out.
Many successful organizations Gallup has partnered with to create the conditions for best friends at work find success in sharing public stories about their best friend at work. Consistently talking about best friends at work makes relationships part of how we do things around here — in other words, part of the work culture.
One client organization, for example, launched a weekly companywide meeting that spotlights one employee's best friend at work. This recurring event is simple in design, but sends powerful, consistent messages about having a best friend at work that connect and inspire employees.
In these weekly best friend features, employees might describe what their best friend at work means to them or how they've benefited from their at-work support system. Regardless, it unifies employees and excites them about the incredible value of having best friends at work.
Consistently talking about best friends at work makes relationships part of how we do things around here — in other words, part of the work culture.
For this client, consistently sharing stories fuels a "best friend" work atmosphere and offers valuable lessons about how others can benefit from having a best friend at work. Since the effort began, the client has experienced dramatic growth in the number of employees who say they have a best friend at work — improving on this engagement element by over 80 percentile points in Gallup's global database. The organization is now an employer of choice that has been commended as a Gallup Exceptional Workplace Award winner.
A best friend at work is the gift that keeps on giving. When employees have genuine friends, they have someone who makes them feel included and cared for. Someone they can be vulnerable with. And because they care about their best friend, they don't want to let them down, so they show up for them in their performance and in a supportive role. They have their back — whether that means prioritizing safety or going out their way on a project.
This type of support is all the more crucial in the post-pandemic workplace, where many employees are more emotionally taxed and physically distanced. Workers need not only social support, but also accountability and connection to their culture.
Having a best friend at work helps even the most remote worker stay engaged and committed, fueling them to go the extra mile no matter what challenges arise.
Alok Patel is Managing Consultant at Gallup.
Stephanie Plowman is Senior Research Database Manager at Gallup.
Bailey Nelson contributed to this article.
Results for the 2022 Gallup poll are based on self-administered web surveys conducted June 13-23, 2022, with a random sample of 16,586 adults, aged 18 and older, who work full time or part time for an employer and who are members of the Gallup Panel. For results based on this sample of U.S. employees, the margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point at the 95% confidence level.
Results for the 2021 Gallup poll are based on self-administered web surveys conducted March 10-24, 2021, with a random sample of 15,536 adults, aged 18 and older, who work full time or part time for an employer and who are members of the Gallup Panel. For results based on this sample of U.S. employees, the margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point at the 95% confidence level.
Results for the 2020 Gallup poll are based on self-administered web surveys conducted March 9-23, 2020, with a random sample of 13,594 adults, aged 18 and older, who work full time or part time for an employer and who are members of the Gallup Panel. For results based on this sample of U.S. employees, the margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point at the 95% confidence level.
Results for the 2019 Gallup poll are based on self-administered web surveys conducted Sept. 3-16, 2019, with a random sample of 14,181 adults, aged 18 and older, who work full time or part time for an employer and who are members of the Gallup Panel. For results based on this sample of U.S. employees, the margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point at the 95% confidence level.
Gallup uses probability-based, random sampling methods to recruit its Panel members. Gallup weighted the obtained samples to correct for nonresponse. Nonresponse adjustments were made by adjusting the sample to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education and region. Demographic weighting targets were based on the most recent Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
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