Having a friend in the workplace can make your job more fun, more productive, and less stressful. Friends, after all, are confidants you can lean on and learn from.
Despite this fact, it can be hard for adults to make new friends even if they are with certain people for eight hours per day. But, as a new study points out, those eight hours can go quite a long way when it comes to building a new friendship.
So, what can science tell us about making friends? Specifically, how long does it take for a friendship to blossom?
That was the question on the mind of Kansas University’s Jeffrey Hall who, after studying freshman on campus, came to the conclusion that it takes around 50 hours of bonding to become someone’s friend.
“We have to put that time in,” Hall said, according to the university. “You can’t snap your fingers and make a friend. Maintaining close relationships is the most important work we do in our lives — most people on their deathbeds agree.”
Let’s take a look at how he came to that number.
Before we do, though, it’s important to note that Hall is taking a lot of information from a previous study on friendship that suggested the average person can only handle about 150 friends at any given time. This group of friends is then broken down from casual acquaintances to close friends. Obviously, maintaining a super close connection with 150 people is tough work, which is why, on average, people have nine truly close friendships.
For his first study, Hall analyzed the responses of 355 individuals on an online poll who were actively looking for new friendships after moving into a new area. He asked them to think about one of their new acquaintances “and how their relationship had proceeded, drawing associations between friendship closeness, hours spent together and types of activities,” the university reports.
He then asked them to categorize this person as an acquaintance, casual friend, friend, or close friend.
Armed with that data, he started to break down how many hours the individuals spent with their new ‘friend,’ looking to find out how long it took for a person to move up the ranks from acquaintance to close friend.
To verify the results from the first study, Hall moved on to another, which looked at 112 Kansas University freshman who had recently moved to the Lawrence. Then, like in the first study, he asked them to think of a person they had met when classes started - which, in the study, was two weeks into the semester - and he then followed how those friendships progressed over a total of seven weeks, allowing him to see if his original estimates tracked.
In the end, Hall found that it takes roughly 40-60 hours to become casual friends with someone, 80-100 hours to be friends, and more than 200 hours to become close friends.
That’s a lot of time! The funny thing is that, according to Hall, once one of these levels is passed - say, someone is ‘upgraded’ from an acquaintance to a casual friend - the time each spent with that person goes up tremendously. So, in other words, it gets easier and easier to move up the levels once the process has started.
“When people transition between stages, they’ll double or triple the amount of time they spend with that other person in three weeks’ time,” Hall told the university.
“I found freshmen who spent one-third of all waking hours in a month with one good friend.”
While this study was conducted at a school where young people are all trying to make friendships, there are some takeaways here that apply to the workforce, too.
For example, Hall’s tips for making a friend can still be applied:
“You can’t make people spend time with you, but you can invite them,” Hall reports.
“Make it a priority to spend time with potential friends. If you are interested in a friendship, switch up the context. If you work together, go to lunch or out for a drink. These things signal to people that you are interested in being friends with them.”
In an article for Fast Company, writer Laura Vanderkam asked Jessica Methot, an assistant professor of human resource management at Rutgers University, all about friendship in the workplace.
Unsurprisingly, Methot brought up a lot of the same issues as Hall does in his recent study. For example, maintaining too many friendships in the workplace can be detrimental, and the best way to build a friendship is to spend time with a person - hopefully outside of work, too - where you can get to know them and build those bonds. After all, if Hall’s research is correct, time spent is a key indicator of friendship level.
Hall’s study was recently published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.