Elizabeth Newman

When I was 18, I was instantly suspicious of my college roommate. She was beautiful and brilliant at math, so I figured we’d have little in common.

Then we discovered we both loved Broadway show tunes. Since then, Kristen’s been my person.

She visited over Memorial Day Weekend, allowing us to spend a lot of quality time gabbing and letting our respective 1-year-olds start building their own friendship. Since she’s a professor at Northeastern (I told you she was brilliant) and we’re in different time zones, not to mention juggling a ton of family and professional responsibilities, we sadly don’t see each other or talk as much as we’d like.

Most of you are in the same boat, which is why it’s important to have friends at work, even if you’re a CEO.

Seth Anthony

In long-term care, the gut reaction for many administrators when they see employees chatting or laughing is often, “Get back to work,” or, “Don’t you have something to do?” It’s easy to fall into this trap when staffing is such a challenge.

But according to a two-year survey of almost 60,000 people across the senior living care continuum, there’s a significant correlation between friendship and engagement levels, according to Seth C. Anthony, Director of Sales, Marketing & Business Development at

Holleran. The firm found long-term care employees who report having friends at work are twice as likely to be highly satisfied with their job (62%), compared to employees who disagree with the statement (28%).

“Correlation is not causation, but that specific factor correlated more,” Anthony told me. One unique aspect to long-term care, he noted, is how clinicians can become close to residents.

“While these aren’t friendship relationships, employees do get attached to residents,” he said. “If employees can make another dollar an hour at another community, are they willing to leave their residents? There is a lot of loyalty that comes from, ‘These are my people and these are my residents.’”

A lot of the debate around friendship at work relates to fear. With residents, it’s a worry around employees remembering that, for residents, the facility is their home, and they are still customers. For managers, there’s also a fear that friendships among employees can lead to maligning leadership. There is a legitimate need to remember boundaries: While friendly nurses may gripe to each other about the C-suite as part of their bonding, it’s not acceptable for their boss to join in. In fact, many in senior care struggle to find their footing after a promotion and have to renegotiate friendships with their colleagues.

What’s particularly interesting in Holleran’s research is that our conventional wisdom that says something like, “Sure, a lot of our employees are women, and friendship is more important to them.” But Anthony challenges that, noting how many men listed friendship as important at work in the survey. Fewer men and women are joining community or social groups, but women may still be more likely to seek out group activities.

In comparison,  “Men just aren’t joiners,” he said. “They have the folks they bond with at work, and that becomes an important social outlet.”

For men and women, longer and longer work days mean “we spend more hours at work than anywhere else,” he says. Workplace friendships tie into retention, and it’s up to leaders to model positive interactions.

Of course, there will always be leaders who feel that, to quote many a reality television star, “I’m not here to make friends.” But good administrators model positivity that doesn’t overstep. Anthony describes it as the difference between saying, “Hey, Bob, I remember your son is playing soccer this season. How’s it going?” and feeling like you’re obligated to go to that child’s soccer game.

The bottom line is that, given our busy lives, we may go weeks or months without getting together with people outside our families. I work hard to stay in touch with long-time and long-distance friends, and dearly appreciate those who make journeys to Chicago to say hello. But all of us rely on our work friends to bounce around ideas off of or show photos of our babies to.

Or as Anthony said, “We bond to people we see everyday. It’s OK for people to be friends with each other. It’s good for retention.”

Follow Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman @TigerELN.