Friendship in the Workplace

Can Friends Buffer Us Against Burnout?

It is of no surprise that when the demands we feel at work are not met with the necessary resources to accomplish our tasks, we feel anxious, stressed, and are more likely to reach burnout. The impact of job demands on levels of burnout are powerful, and in these cases it’s important that we know where to turn in an attempt to buffer these effects. Fortunately, according to the buffer hypothesis, the negative effects of high job demands on well-being can be moderated by a variety of resources, one of them being social support and high-quality relationships (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007).

Dutton and Ragins (2007) define a high-quality relationship as one that is mutually beneficial and reoccurring between two people in the workplace. Such relationships serve various functions, from providing resources in times of adversity to providing support in the pursuit of growth and development. Additionally, these workplace relationships may serve as effective buffers by infusing meaning into our work, and this perception of work as meaningful can be reinforced through dyadic relationships by giving to others (Colbert, Bono Purvanova, 2015).

So, what can organizations do to prevent burnout from happening?

  1. Foster the development of workplace relationships
  2. Create a shared sense of collective identity and belongingness
  3. Present employees with the opportunity to give and get resources from each other
  4. Develop mentoring programs
  5. Encourage employees to spend time with each other informally outside of work
  6. Design workspaces and schedules that are conducive to employees interacting with each other
  7. Put reward systems in place that value collaboration and cooperation as opposed to competition
  8. Implement systems of shared information to build trust among employees

Ultimately, through an environment in which people feel safe and trusting, high-quality relationships and social support can reduce the threat posed by job demands. By building a sense of commonality with shared goals, values, and an understanding of the organization, co-workers can come to share a stronger sense of group identity that will then be reinforced through the thoughts and behaviors that they exhibit in the workplace. This, in turn, can promote collaboration and creativity while empowering individuals to take initiative to build good relationships. The more people get to know each other, the more each individual’s talents, gifts and strengths will come to light.

In these ways, people not only will begin to feel more known at work, but they will also feel more whole and appreciated for all they have to offer. Considering the way work and personal lives are integrated in the workplace, it is of no surprise that people look to their work relationships as a source of not only work-related support, but also emotional and psychological support, especially in times of high stress.


Bakker, A., & Demerouti, E. (2007). The job demands-resources model: State of the art. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 22(3), 309-328.

Colbert, A., Bono, J., & Purvanova, R. (2015). Flourishing via workplace relationships: Moving beyond instrumental support. Academy of Management Journal.

Dutton, J. & Ragins, R. (2007). Exploring positive relationship at work: Building a theoretical and research foundation. London: Psychology Press.

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