People with racially diverse friend groups are more productive

A more diverse social circle is correlated with better networking skills and greater effectiveness at work

Group of hands with different skin colours doing a team huddle

(Illustration by Kagan McLeod)

Do you know what your employees’ friend circles are like? A new study published in Organization Science found that employees with more racially diverse friend networks were more likely to go beyond their roles to help the company.

In one study involving 222 employees and supervisors of a company, the employees were asked to list five people in their personal network of friends and identify their race, then do the same for 10 people in the company they considered friends. Findings show that workers who hang with a varied group of friends in their off-hours tend to build larger and similarly diverse networks on the job. Supervisors also rated these employees higher on questions like “This person has done more work than required.”

Steffanie Wilk, co-author of the study and associate professor of management and human resources at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, said the reason was that these employees who cultivated more diverse friend networks on the job simply had more people to help. “Your friends outside of work actually have this connection to how you behave in the workplace, through the shaping of your relationships on the job,” she explained. “They’re more likely to see their ingroup — the people they most identify with — as a broader group of people which includes those of different racial backgrounds. And we tend to help people in our ingroups.”

A secondary finding from this study discovered employees who had racially-diverse friend groups were more trusting of supervisors who also had a diverse social network. Wilk said sharing similar values and beliefs when it comes to the kinds of friends people choose can build trust between people more than just sharing the same race.

Finally, for companies looking to build a more diverse workplace (as studies have shown that diverse work groups tend to outperform homogenous groups), Wilk stressed that companies should let friendships develop naturally when they provide collaboration opportunities for people of different races, as enforced heterogeneous teams show more interpersonal conflicts. The most constructive relationships are built on friendship, shared Wilk.