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Do You Really Like Your Coworkers?

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Oct. 19 2018, Published 3:28 a.m. ET

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If you feel like your friends at the office are just that, office friends, you are not alone.

Research on Friends at Work, a survey from Olivet Nazarene University, revealed that only 15 percent of Americans consider their coworkers “real friends.” On average, 41 percent of employees view their coworkers as coworkers, nothing more and nothing less.

The survey, which asked 3,000 Americans with full-time jobs across 21 industries a broad range of questions about their circle of friends in the workplace, offers some surprising insights.

The Friendship Gamut

Among those surveyed, the average number of friends reported at work is five. But quantity and quality don’t necessarily align. Of those five, 71 percent of respondents didn’t describe any as best friends.

When not categorized as a real friend or a coworker, 22 percent say they see their colleagues as strangers, 20 percent as only-at-work friends, and 2 percent as enemies.

Data from the survey shows that industry is a contributing factor. Transportation, finance and banking, and accounting have the highest average number of friends while legal and real estate have the fewest.

Tricia Fulks Kelley, visiting professor and student media adviser at Eastern Kentucky University, feels lucky. Education is on the lower end of the industries surveyed, with an average of four friends.

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“My background is in journalism, so having those key individuals [in academia] to help me navigate this new professional world is important. I also think it’s more important to me now because I’m in a “new” place. While I’ve lived in Richmond for almost four years, I came here knowing very few people…it’s nice to cultivate friendships on my own.”

Conversely, in the restaurant and food and beverage industries—those more social in nature—respondents feel overwhelmed by the number of friends they have.

Access To Your Coworkers

Several other factors can play a role in workplace relationships, like how your office is configured.

Those who carry out their job functions in multiple locations have the highest number of friends on average, followed by those who sit at a desk in a workspace with an open floor plan.

The friend-seekers in cubicles and private offices face greater challenges in building lasting friendships. Those who work remotely or from a home office are the least likely to engage regularly with fellow employees.

Emily Dufton, a historian and writer who works at home, admits that she misses having coworkers.

“Being a writer and editor can be really lonely. Just having someone else to talk to while I get a cup of coffee would be great,” said Dufton.

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“Now that I engage clients myself, I know how important relationships are. I work for people, and I want my relationships with them to be as positive as possible. Some of my clients have also become my friends, which has been a really valuable experience.”

Again, industry comes into play. Those in insurance, marketing/advertising/PR, and retail tend to make friends the fastest. It takes longer to build relationships for those in engineering, healthcare, and finance. Within media, manufacturing and distribution, and government respondents say they need more friends at the office.

The good news is that it’s not as hard to make new friends at work as you might think.

Within just a few days, 21 percent of respondents become friends with a coworker. A third become friends within just a few weeks, and 22 percent after a couple of months.

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Silver And Gold

There is strong incentive for prioritizing workplace relationships. When you get along with your coworkers, just like roommates, everything is easier.

“I spend more time with them than anyone else, more than my fiancé, so I consider work friends a very important relationship,” said Erica Santiago, who works at Pfizer as a digital content manager.

“I wouldn’t be able to enjoy work fully without having a set of friends—they help motivate me everyday. I do consider some of my coworkers my best friends and we hang out outside of work. We laugh, we vent, we support each other.”

It’s not necessary to spend an inordinate amount of time outside of the workday with your work friends. A couple of times per month and once per month—67 percent combined—were found to be the most common.

Use that time to build trust and support that can help you to be more effective and feel more accomplished in your job. A sense of belonging and connection often make us want to work harder.

While the survey numbers don’t paint the “friendliest” picture, it’s important to remember that an overwhelming majority of those surveyed—82 percent—do consider at least one of their coworkers a “friend.” So don’t be afraid to ask a colleague to get together after work. They may be looking for a friend too.

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