If watercooler chats and office foosball tournaments seem a waste of precious work time, you might want to reconsider your schedule. Spending time socializing at work might go a long way to improving your career. Studies have shown that making friends on the job reduces work-related stress. In a study published last year, University of Rochester Medical Center researchers found that both men and women are more likely to experience depression when they feel that they aren't supported socially at work. Friendship between coworkers also can pay off for employers. Gallup research has found that employees who have a best friend at work are much more likely to be engaged in their jobs—and they're more likely to have engaged customers.
For those worried about hanging on to their jobs, friendship with the boss can make the difference. That's an odd concept for workers who have long been conditioned to draw strict lines between their personal and professional lives, particularly when dealing with management. But Stephen Viscusi, author of Bulletproof Your Job: 4 Simple Strategies to Ride Out the Rough Times and Come Out on Top at Work, advises employees to nurture friendship with their managers—even share select details of their lives outside of work—so that the employees are seen as people, not merely subordinates. "It's much more difficult to fire someone that you know personally or that you feel like you have an understanding of who they are as a person," Viscusi says.
So, if you've been using fear and intimidation (yes, you, Dwight Schrute) to launch your career, try stealthier tactics for job success. Start a friendly conversation with a colleague, or join the office softball team. Employers, too, will benefit from creating a workplace that encourages employees to socialize.