The Science of Success: Why Close Friendships are Good for Business

The Science of Success: Why Close Friendships are Good for Business

A variation of this piece was first published at, a HubSpot Medium publication.

We all think about work/life balance. But why should your employees wait until after work to find that balance? You don’t have to go far to read about why taking a break – a walk, a moment to meditate – is good for you. Even your Apple Watch reminds you to stand up every hour. But what about at the office? Is your break good for your team’s productivity? And are the breaks your employees take good for your company?

Absolutely. Rigorous research and a wealth of experience demonstrate not only why, but how.

Task-unrelated thoughts generate completed tasks. In this day and age of mounting distractions, some distractions may actually be beneficial. Not social media, or a little shooting the breeze at the water cooler, but distractions that engage your brain, albeit in a slightly different way than work does.

According to a study published in the journal Cognition, “task-unrelated thoughts” – or TUTs – can actually make you more efficient. According to the authors, it is difficult for the brain to maintain “vigilance” over time. We inevitably become too accustomed to our tasks. Coming back from your break requires your brain to reconnect with what you’re trying to accomplish. This gives you the opportunity to take stock of the whole project, and resume your work focused and ready. But TUTs do have to be thoughts — so taking a moment puzzle out a Sudoku is more effective than mindlessly grabbing a cup of coffee.

Gerrit Albertus Beneker, Telephone Operator, 1921 [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Gerrit Albertus Beneker, Telephone Operator, 1921 [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

To supercharge your TUTs, however, don’t go it alone: grab a friend or a colleague! Because socialization improves performance. High-quality social connections among employees make the work they do together more efficient, and more effective. MIT researcher Alex Pentland has shown that more talkative call center employees are actually more efficient and happier. Gallup has also demonstrated that workgroups in which employees have a “best friend” are more productive and trusting. These connections make TUTs more meaningful, but taking the time for a TUT enhances these relationships, deepening workplace friendships and extending them beyond the office!

Finally, in the workplace, high-quality connections promote creativity. Research published last year in Human Relations demonstrates that “respectful engagement” – which includes “interpersonal actions that confer a sense of value and worth” – makes people feel accepted and “opens [them] up to diverse points of view.” Inclusive environments – where everyone feels heard and valued – yield stronger, more creative teams.

By making everyone feel included in the conversation, you invite diverse perspectives and open dialogues that allow teams to tackle workplace challenges in new and creative ways.

So, what can you do tomorrow?

Encourage your employees to take a break, but be sure they don’t do it alone. You can even create opportunities that encourage unstructured time to gather and talk. But talk is key: have substantive conversations – about books, movies, the news. Encourage storytelling and personal sharing, listening, and even disagreeing. By creating opportunities for your employees to connect with others at work over task-unrelated thoughts, you forge the relationships that help them let their hair down, that create connection, creativity, empathy, and productivity. And that’s good for everyone.

Image: Coit Tower Murals, 1933, Public Works Art Project, San Francisco, California, by Oren Rozen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

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Ann Kowal Smith

Ann Kowal Smith

Ann Kowal Smith is the Founder and Executive Director of Books@Work.