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Build Your Career Office Life

Why Diverse Friendships Might Make You Better at Your Job

Why Diverse Friendships Might Make You Better at Your Job
Credit: RawPixel/Shutterstock

The friends you keep outside of work may be affecting your job performance, new research suggests.

Employees who have a racially diverse group of friends in their personal lives perform better at certain aspects of their jobs, according to a study recently published in the journal Organization Science. The study's authors discovered that this is because these employees also tend to have more racially diverse friends at work, which is linked to workers going above and beyond their job responsibilities and, under some circumstances, having more trust in their boss.

"Your friends outside of work actually have this connection to how you behave in the workplace, through the shaping of your relationships on the job," Steffanie Wilk, a co-author of the study, said in a statement.

Employees with diverse friends tend to build similar friendships in the office, according to Wilk, an associate professor of management and human resources at The Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business. She said these workers more likely identify with, and in turn help, a broader group of co-workers, including those of different racial backgrounds.

"That means they are being helpful to more of their work colleagues," Wilk said. "Supervisors notice that."

For the study, researchers surveyed 222 employees who worked in customer service centers at a large financial institution about their friends inside and outside of work. The results revealed that those who had more friends of a different race  outside of work also had a more diverse group of co-worker friends. This was even after accounting for how many different-race colleagues each had in their immediate work group. [Why Diversity is Good for Business ]

Employees with racially diverse friends were also graded higher by their superiors in certain work-related aspects. Specifically, workers with more friends of different races outside of work were rated higher by their bosses on how much they created team spirit and went beyond their roles to help the company.

Additionally, these employees were more likely to trust supervisors who also had a diverse group of friends. Wilk said previous research has found that there is more trust between managers and employees if they are more alike. However, most of those studies focused simply on whether they were of the same race or ethnicity.

"Trust can be built on deeper similarities than just sharing the same race," Wilk said. "Here we find that there's more trust when they share similar values and beliefs when it comes to the kinds of friends they have."

Wilk believes this study is another example of how employees' personal lives affect their work lives.

"Here we show how we carry our friendship patterns across the boundary of personal and work lives," she said. "These friendships are affecting us in terms of our relationships at work in ways that we may not even be aware of."

The study was co-authored by Erin Makarius, a Ph.D. graduate of Ohio State who is now an assistant professor at the University of Akron.

Chad  Brooks
Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.