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Happy Coworkers in a Meeting

We see coworkers nearly every day, collaborate with them on important projects, maybe even share inside jokes about our boss—but do we consider these people friends?

Our team set out to better understand friendships at work—how they’re defined, how common they are, how they impact productivity—by surveying 3,000 Americans with full-time jobs. What we found is a fascinating portrait of the social bonds that make up the modern American workplace, and a trove of data useful for anyone trying to manage a happy, productive workforce.

The Truth About Work Friendships

First, we asked respondents whether or not they define any of their coworkers as “friends.” An overwhelming majority said yes—82 percent—while only 18 percent said no, leading us to conclude most working environments are pretty friendly! We then asked people to assign each of their coworkers to one of the five following categories: real friend, only-at-work friend, coworker, stranger or enemy. On average, Americans define 41 percent of their coworkers as just that—coworkers. They consider 22 percent strangers, 20 percent only-at-work friends, 15 percent real friends, and two percent enemies.

The average number of friends people report having at work is five, but our survey revealed a majority don’t consider these friends “best friends.” Just 29 percent of our respondents said at least one of their coworkers is a bestie.

Office Friends by Industry

Our data shows the industries with the highest average number of friends are transportation (10), finance and banking (8), accounting (8), and marketing/advertising/PR (7). Industries with the fewest friends include legal and real estate, each tallying three friends per respondent, on average.

We also looked at the prevalence of friendships based on different types of workspace. We found those who work in a variety of locations (e.g. outbound salespeople) have the highest number of friends on average (7), followed by those who work in open floor plan desks (6), cubicle desks (6), private offices (5), small rooms with a few people (4), retail locations (4), and home offices (3).

Wanting More Out of Work Friendships

Overall, our survey indicated people like the number of work friends they have—76 percent report they’re satisfied. Of those remaining, 20 percent said they’d like more friends and four percent said they have too many. Respondents in industries that are more social in nature were more likely to say they have too many friends, such as workers in restaurant, food and beverage.

According to our respondents, work friendships tend to form quickly, with 58 percent saying they typically become friends with a coworker within a couple of days or weeks. Industries that make friends quickest include insurance, marketing, restaurant, retail and real estate. Those in engineering, healthcare, finance, HR and government tend to take longer to bond.

Once coworkers become friends, as in any solid friendship, sensitive subjects are inevitably discussed. According to our survey, 58 percent of people have a work friend they can talk to about their love life, 53 percent can talk about health issues, 33 percent can talk about financial issues, and 64 percent can talk about conflict with other coworkers. That said, while a majority of people feel they can talk to coworkers about sensitive subjects, many don’t indulge too much—one in three don’t talk to coworkers about things unrelated to work for more than a few minutes per day.

Salary Comparisons

While talking about how much money you make is frowned upon in many organizations across the country, once coworkers are friends, frank conversations ensue. A large portion of our respondents—68 percent!—say they have talked to work friends about how much money they make.