Work Friendships Are Going Away?

With the rise of remote work, work friendships have gone into severe decline. Now they may be going away entirely.

By Kristi Eckert | Published

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With the rise of remote work, office culture is fundamentally changing. One of those fundamental changes is happening to work friendships. Or rather, the formation and cultivation of such friendships. The number of people making an effort to form friendships at work has gone into serious decline over the past couple of years. 

With so many people now working from home, many individuals are not choosing to prioritize building work friendships anymore. A recent survey done by Gallup (a workplace engagement firm) measured that the number of people who feel they have a best friend at work has declined by 5% since 2019, going from 22% down to 17%. In another Gallup-conducted survey where people asked what they prioritized most at work, making friends ranked dead last. Compensation and work-life balance ranked at the top. 

The reasons why so many people have suddenly stopped cultivating work friendships are vast and varied. For some remote workers, the effort it takes to make friends is simply not worth it. For others, like Michael Trotter, they much prefer to prioritize family time and friends in their personal life over trying to forge work friendships with colleagues. “I don’t want to put in eight, nine, 10 hours and go out and have a beer—and talk about work for another four hours,” said Trotter. He told the Wall Street Journal that he finds socializing at work unnecessarily draining. “It makes it a lot easier if, when you’re done with work, you’re done with work,” emphasized Trotter. 

Not everyone feels like Trotter though. Some people like Chad Eslinger, a Minneapolis-based mechanical engineer, want to form real and lasting work friendships. Slinger told the Wall Street Journal that he is someone who is an extrovert and seeks out those work relationships. 

However, Eslinger’s (and others who share his sentiment regarding work friendships) “need” for friends at work may speak to a larger societal issue as a whole. Anne Helen Peterson and Charlie Warzel are authors of the book Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working from Home. They recently spoke on the podcast The Ezra Klein Show. During the podcast, Peterson insightfully pointed out it could be a problem that so many individuals are relying on their employers as the main drivers of their social needs. She also highlighted that it might speak to an even greater fallacy. A fallacy where individuals are spending so much time at work that they literally don’t have time to develop friendships elsewhere. Peterson said that exactly that is part of the reason why she and Warzel ended up together. 

So are work friendships really going away? The short answer is probably not entirely. At least, not yet and not now. They are changing though. And the number of people prioritizing them is declining, too. If remote work is able to remain a stronghold in society. And the office setting as we know it becomes entirely redefined, then it is possible that work friendships may not exist in the capacity that they once did. Time will ultimately reveal what work friendships will look like or won’t look like in the years to come.