Item #10

Anita and me this week at the office
A few years ago researchers at Gallup interviewed more than 5 million workers in a massive study that aimed to identify which workplace traits lead to high productivity and profitability.

Gallup’s list of 12 elements include many you might expect, like clearly outlined goals and expectations; a positive, impactful mission; a fair and encouraging supervisor, professional development opportunities. But one item on the list, #10, was a surprise to many. Gallup found that the employees who answered yes to this statement – I have a best friend at work – were seven times more likely to be engaged in their job. They got more done in less time, made fewer mistakes, had more engaged customers and were more likely to innovate and share new ideas.

Yesterday, as I packed dusty picture frames and stained coffee mugs into a cardboard box and untacked faded drawings and finger paintings, paper crinkled, edges curling, from the bulletin board, I thought a lot about why it’s been so hard to leave my job this week. And I realized it’s because I am in the minority.

I am one of only 30 percent, according to Gallup, who have a best friend at work.

Anita and I met 10 years ago. She was a single mom; I was a transplant to Nebraska. Our sons were both barely one year old. She managed the donor database; I wrote press releases and fundraising copy. Her office, filled with cactus and African violets and piles of paperwork, was two doors down from mine.

Our friendship bloomed in ten-minute increments. Once or twice a day, on the way to retrieve a letter off the printer or a stack of bills from the mail cubbies, I’d stop to chat, leaning against the doorframe of her office. Occasionally I’d sink into the 50s-style chair with the worn grey upholstery next to her desk, or she’d pop her head into my office as I sat hunched over the keyboard. 

I swear we raised our kids together in those ten-minute bursts of conversation a day. All the joys and frustrations and fears, the euphoric highs and the cataclysmic lows that go hand-in-hand with parenting, and life, really, were exchanged within a 12-foot-by-12-foot office.

Looking back, I can see now how Anita and I both floundered a bit in those early years. Lost and unmoored, uncertain and afraid, we were shell-shocked, I think, bewildered at how in the world we’d ended up where we were. I see now how we grounded each other; how we were each other’s life preserver in a wildly tossing sea.

I don’t claim to understand exactly how having a best friend in the office impacts workplace productivity. I’m sure there are algorithms and spreadsheets to explain all that.

But what I do know is this: you don’t leave the rest of your life tied up in a neat bundle on the kitchen counter when you go to work each day. You carry your burdens and your joys, your anxieties and your sorrows along with you, packing them like you pack your lunch box and toting them right into the office where they sit in the guest chair next to your desk.

And if you’re lucky like me, if you’re one of the 30 percent, you get to unpack those burdens and share those joys and sorrows a little bit at a time, leaning against the doorframe of your best friend’s office with a stack of mail pressed to your chest.

Do you have a best friend in the office? How do you think having an office best friend might impact productivity?

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Gaby  – (May 4, 2012 at 7:11 AM)  

I did before we moved to our new town. In fact, I left two that I still keep in contact with. I still think one day I would move back if I could just because those two are there. I don't work anymore (not outside the home). My job is to homeschool my kids and I have a best friend with the same job. Does that count? :)

Megan Willome  – (May 4, 2012 at 8:08 AM)  

Love the lunchbox analogy!

My son and I were talking about basketball. He said the boys on varsity (which loses more) aren't good friends. But the JV guys (like him), hang out together all the time and have for years. And they win.

Michelle DeRusha  – (May 4, 2012 at 9:41 AM)  

Oh yeah, that counts even more -- we need that kind of support and cameraderie when we are working out of our homes - it can be so isolating!

Anita Ducey –   – (May 4, 2012 at 10:41 AM)  

Michelle,  You describe it so perfectly - of course!  Solving lifes problems 10 minutes at a time.  ... and who knew?  A higher power gave us each other, an anchor.  Considering the future leaves me a bit off balance, and the waterworks could start, but they won't.  There is no doubt that I will never let go of this gift.  You so carefully have held all of the best and worst of me.  You helped me mold that crazy, but amazing little boy. With that support the future is bright.  I am stronger for it.  We'll continue to get those ten minutes and more, in a coffee shop, or our backyards. Who knows? I have faith! 

dukeslee  – (May 4, 2012 at 11:00 AM)  

Great post. Linked it up for our High Calling readers today. 

lbmoreland –   – (May 4, 2012 at 11:16 AM)  

I've found workplace friendships are close until one is transferred. Sadly, without the day to day contact and shared work concerns the relationship wanes. For those of us with careers spanning a dozen moves or more, the loss is is deeply felt. I believe this  has to be an element that contributes burnout.

pastordt –   – (May 4, 2012 at 12:27 PM)  

Having a best friend anywhere is a gift - maybe most especially at work. I've had several over the years and in some ways, that was the hardest part of leaving- the people I worked with. So make some time now and again to re-connect. This working at home can too easily lead to isolation and that's not a good thing. The rest of it, though? Yeah, it's great. Enjoy this time of transition, Michelle.

Viviana Reza Morales  – (May 4, 2012 at 2:21 PM)  

I loved this so much I forwarded it on to my bestie at work.  As much as I love my work and most of the people there, I cannot imagine her not a part of my daily life, my confidante and the person I laugh with everyday!

Michelle DeRusha  – (May 4, 2012 at 6:11 PM)  

I agree. And honestly, fear of losing my work friendships was one of the main reasons I hesitated to leave my job. It takes a lot of work to maintain a friendship after the daily contact is gone.

Michelle DeRusha  – (May 4, 2012 at 6:13 PM)  

When Brad asked what the number one factor was in holding me back from resigning, I said, "My friends there!" His response: "I don't think that's quite a good enough reason to stay."

As for reconnecting, we are already planning to meet for lunch next Friday. It will take a bit more work to maintain the friendship, but we are both committed - and I am grateful for that!

Michelle DeRusha  – (May 4, 2012 at 6:14 PM)  

You are so right...laughing is a key element! It's so funny to see your comment here, Viv. Just tonight at dinner, Brad said, "I hope your post today doesn't make your other friends feel badly." Then I was worried that it would, but I see from your comment that you totally get it.

kendalprivette –   – (May 4, 2012 at 8:58 PM)  

having great friends at work helps my productivity in that i am happier than if they weren't there. and when i am happy, i am more productive. i worked at a school 45 minutes from myhouse for an inordinate amount of time (could have transferred much much sooner than i did) simply because of my colleagues. we all cried. a lot. when i left....

Andrea  – (May 4, 2012 at 10:39 PM)  

Blessings, hugs, and prayers,

Anita –   – (May 5, 2012 at 10:43 PM)  

 Love you too!!!

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