New research offers another piece of evidence that the widespread worry over the demise of the watercooler conversation may be misplaced: A Qualtrics survey of more than 1,000 US workers released earlier this fall found that hybrid employees form meaningful workplace friendships more easily than their fully in-person peers.

To learn more about how workplaces can effectively foster those relationships, we spoke recently with Dr. Ben Granger, chief workplace psychologist at Qualtrics. Below is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

Let’s start with some context. What is the link between workplace friendship and engagement?

We have seen in our research that having close relationships in the workplace is absolutely a driver of engagement. It’s highly correlated with it. There's a strong relationship with intent to stay. So people who feel like they have more social connections in the workplace, who have friendships in the workplace, do tend to be more engaged. They tend to be more committed to the organization, and more likely to say, ‘Hey, I'm going to stick around.’

We've also done some research on the candidate side. We did this really cool study in 2020 with a very large sample, 10,000 Americans, where we took eight of the most salient job characteristics—pay, benefits, the manager, the team, workplace flexibility, and a few others—and we created these hypothetical jobs. For example, and I’m just making this up on the fly: ‘This job pays really well, the manager’s not so great, but you're going to have a lot of workplace flexibility. Job two is high workplace flexibility, great boss, pay’s not great, benefits are okay.’ And we asked people to choose one, which allowed us on the back end to look at the factors that were driving whether somebody would choose one job over another.

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