Working Alongside A Friend Makes You Less Productive, Research Finds

by : Cameron Frew on : 25 Sep 2019 12:01
Working Alongside A Friend Makes You Less Productive, Research FindsColumbia Pictures

The Pam to your Jim, the Marcus to your Mike, the Ann to your Leslie: rocking up to a shift with your best pal is a power move. 

Nothing soothes the impending pain of a nine-hour retail shift like knowing your work buddy will be alongside you for the ride: chatting and laughing come part-and-parcel with the day’s work.


However, while it may make your job feel easier and funner, new research has found that working with your friends has a bad effect on productivity (shock!).

The Office Jim and Pam GifThe Office Jim and Pam GifNBC

Dr Sangyoon Park, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Hong Kong, set out to find whether grafting alongside your pals helps or hinders people’s productivity levels.

His research honed in on a seafood processing plant in Vietnam. Dr Park looked specifically at a group of workers who fillet fish, taking note of who’s friends with whom, as well as how friendly they were outside of their working hours.


Dr Park explained that they ‘assigned workers to different workstations… so we have this variation in proximity to your friends’.

The IT Crowd GifThe IT Crowd GifFremantle

The plant has workstations where four people will be carrying out their roles at the one time.

As reported by ABC News, Dr Park said:


It’s a setting where workers can see how others are working. In certain cases they have an opportunity for chit-chat, but they can also learn how to do the processing task from the workers.

The results were clear as day: workers were six per cent less productive when working next to their friends.

Although, Dr Park did notice one curious thing: the productivity decline only came when friends were next to each other, rather than across from one another. Simply, this is because they’ll find it easier to socialise in this position.

Parks and Recreation GifParks and Recreation GifNBC

What’s particularly interesting will ring true to anyone out there who works on commission – workers at the plant are paid a daily wage as well as a price per kilo of fish they process. This six per cent drop converts to a four per cent drop in their daily wages, Dr Park said.

Dr Park added: 

They perceive working next to their friends as a type of benefit that’s not compensated by financial incentives.


However, while work friendships may not benefit productivity, they do assist with longevity – Dr Park cited past research which showed people who have friends at work stay there longer, as well as learning more skills along the way.

21 Jump StreetColumbia Pictures

There’s a number of factors to consider: someone may find their anxiety eased by working next a friend, for example.

For Dr Park, it’s a matter of conscientiousness: how focused the worker is, how well they can resist the allure of a bit of banter on the job.

Dr Park explained: 

Workers who have low conscientiousness not only have larger productivity declines, but they’re also overall more likely to choose to work next to their friends.

If you’re being lazy, then the person in the same team is more likely to complain about you. And if that is your friend you’re likely to work faster because you don’t want your friend to be unhappy with your performance.

The OfficeThe OfficeNBC

As the research revolved exclusively around women – only women are employed at the processing plant – Dr Park does ponder whether the results of the research would be any different if looking at men’s relationships at work.

However, for me, the jollity of working with a friend is a joy without any sort of boundaries. Procrastinate away!

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Cameron Frew

After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BJTC-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He's now left his Scottish homelands and taken up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.

Topics: Life, Friends, Work


ABC News and 1 other
  1. ABC News

    Working alongside a friend leads to a drop in productivity, research finds

  2. World Economic Forum

    Do we work better with our friends?