Why Friendship at Work Should Be Encouraged

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Delivering Happiness" by Tony Hsieh. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Are friendships at work a bad thing? Will they distract you from your job?

In Delivering Happiness, former CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, says that friendship at work should be encouraged. He further explains that he implemented friendship in his company culture to create a happy environment for his employees.

Here’s how Zappos motivates friendships at work, and why some people may be against developing a friendly relationship with their co-workers.

A Culture of Friendship

Employees who are friends with their coworkers are happier, which inspires them to do better work and makes the office environment more enjoyable. In addition, employees that are friends work better together during difficult times.

Zappos nurtures friendships at work in several ways. First, Zappos encourages employees to be themselves, letting their true personalities and interests shine through, Hsieh states. Having a blend of personalities and interests in your team makes work more enjoyable, and employees who don’t have to put on a persona at work are more comfortable and eager to work. 

(Shortform note: Encourage your employees to be authentic by learning about their interests and engaging those interests at work. For example, if one of your employees is a stand-up comedian, encourage them to give engaging, humorous presentations. Also, model authenticity yourself: Be open about your personality and interests so your employees feel safe doing the same.)

Second, Zappos encourages employees to have fun at work. Having fun increases employee happiness and enthusiasm for work, Hsieh says. This boost to productivity makes up for any time fun activities may take away from work.

(Shortform note: Having fun increases employee happiness and enthusiasm because it triggers intrinsic motivation. Being intrinsically motivated means you do something because it’s personally rewarding for you. This kind of motivation lasts longer and is both stronger and mentally healthier than motivation caused by external rewards. Having fun while working releases positive chemicals in the brain that make the activity personally rewarding and trigger intrinsic motivation.)

Zappos also encourages honest communication and humility throughout the company. Hsieh explains that honest communication strengthens relationships and encourages respect, making it essential to Zappos’s culture of friendship. At work, humility encourages respect because employees focus less on their own accomplishments and more on encouraging and uplifting others, which is also important for relationships.

Friendship at Work: A Danger or a Benefit?

Research supports Hsieh’s belief that friendship is important in the workplace: People who have friendships at work are more productive, dedicated, and happy. Despite these benefits, only 19% of Americans report having meaningful relationships at work.

There are several possible reasons why there are so few friendships at work. The expectations of professionalism at work can make friendships awkward, as people struggle to find a balance between acting like a friend and a coworker. Another hurdle is the job itself: Coworkers have tasks to complete, which means they rarely spend enough uninterrupted time together to forge a friendship. Finally, friendships can fall apart and the resulting tension harms team efficiency. This threat may discourage coworkers from forming friendships at all.

You can mitigate these possible friendship-related problems by encouraging an environment of communication, humility, and compassion, as Hsieh suggests. Managers can foster such an environment by exemplifying these qualities themselves, as their employees will likely follow their lead. By encouraging these factors, management shows it supports friendly relationships, which eases the pressure of professionalism and encourages employees to solve conflicts amicably. When managers take these steps, employees can reap the benefits of work friendships with fewer risks.

Humility is arguably the most important of the above traits to exemplify because it can naturally lead to the other traits. Humility means recognizing that you’re no more or less important than any other person: Once you realize this and treat other people accordingly, better communication and compassion are easier to nurture as well. As such, practice humility by listening to other people rather than being distracted by your own opinions or ideas, practicing gratitude, and being willing to admit when you don’t know something or aren’t the best person to complete a task.

Why Friendship at Work Should Be Encouraged

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  • Former Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh's guide to workplace happiness
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  • An exploration of the psychology behind happiness and why it leads to success

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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