If you’re working a crappy job, having a friend to gossip, complain, and laugh with while you’re there is probably the only thing that gets you through the day sometimes. However, while working with your friends may be good for your mental health, turns out it’s not so great for your productivity.
You just do less when your friends are around. According to research performed by Dr. Sangyoon Park, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Hong Kong, workers are 6% less productive when sitting next to colleagues they’re friends with. Surprise, surprise!
There is one weird caveat. Dr. Park’s research discovered that the decline in work productivity only happened when friends were sat next to each other. When they were sitting across from each other, the effect was nonexistent. How weird is that?
The study took place at a seafood processing plant in Vietnam. Dr. Park focused on a group of workers who fillet fish at the plant and was specifically paying attention to which members of the group connected more and had a genuine friendship with outside of the workplace. “On a daily basis, we assigned workers to different work stations… so we have this variation in proximity to your friends,” he explained to Hack, according to ABC. “It’s a setting where workers can see how others are working. In certain cases they have an opportunity for chit-chat, but they can also learn how to do the processing task from the workers.”
Workers were even willing to give up some of their pay in order to socialize. As Dr. Park discovered, “The 6% [productivity drop] itself may not mean a lot to the workers, but given they’re paid on a piece-rate and a fixed wage, the 6% drop converts to a 4% drop in their daily wages.” He continued, “They’re somehow willing to forego money to socialize with their friends at work. They perceive working next to their friends as a type of benefit that’s not compensated by financial incentives.” Huh, go figure!
It’s not all bad news—there are some upsides to gossiping. The small reduction in productivity is a small price to pay for the payoff. According to Dr. Park, people who have work friends are more likely to stick it out longer and even pick up more skills while they’re there, especially if there are group projects in which they have an opportunity to work with their pals.
Of course, it all comes down to the individual. Working next to a friend doesn’t have to keep you from getting anything done at work. If you care about your job and have a good work ethic, you should be fine. If not? Well, you might be in trouble. “Workers who have low conscientiousness not only have larger productivity declines, but they’re also overall more likely to choose to work next to their friends,” Dr. Park explained. “If you’re being lazy, then the person in the same team is more likely to complain about you. And if that is your friend you’re likely to work faster because you don’t want your friend to be unhappy with your performance.”
Bottom line? Friends are a good thing. Sure, maybe your boss would feel differently if you’re spending more time chatting to your friends than you are getting your job done, but generally speaking, our friends keep us sane, especially in the workplace.
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