Work friendships aren’t surviving the pandemic. Here’s how that could mean higher pay.

March 22, 2022, 12:30 PM UTC

An incomplete list of things the pandemic has purportedly “killed”: the handshake. Ties. Power lunches. The commute. Watercooler chats. 

Now, it’s the work friend.

In a survey of almost 1,000 employees by Capterra, a subsidiary of Gartner, just 11% of people ranked relationships with coworkers within their top three factors for job satisfaction. Fifty-two percent of remote employees said having friends on their team was minimally or not at all important. To that end, nobody wants virtual social events, either. 

Employees are just as likely to devalue work relationships whether they work the entire time in a store, office, or other workplace (12%), fully remote (10%), or a mix of the two in a hybrid model (12%), the research states.

While the Capterra research isn’t comparable to pre-pandemic years, as the survey was not run before 2022, it illuminates a sea change in corporate culture. In the before times, inflation was low, so (largely) were salaries, and the five-days-in-office workweek was full of forced bonhomie, Ping-pong tables, and work happy hours.

Now workers are saying: Let’s just have more money, please, instead of friends we wouldn’t have chosen for ourselves.

‘Focus on paying your people

The line between colleague and friend is often precariously blurry. More and more people say navigating the virtual friend-making protocol is no longer worth the trouble; they’d rather meet new people in nonwork settings.

Capterra gave both on-site and remote workers a list of factors, and asked them to rank them from top to bottom in terms of how relevant they are to job satisfaction. In first place with a bullet was compensation, followed by work/life balance, job security, perks and benefits, and doing interesting work. Employee relationships ranked dead last. 

“Most at-home workers are totally uninterested,” Brian Westfall, principal HR analyst at Capterra, tells Fortune.

That’s a stark contrast from even 10 years ago, when companies like Google and Apple were making big, playhouse-like workplaces and encouraging workers to be really close-knit, he points out. “Now, we’re finding a move to remote is having people say, ‘The hurdles to making friends at work are a lot higher. I’m gonna look elsewhere.’”

Unlike various workplace ills, this one may not be worth fixing, Westfall says. “Get rid of the Zoom hangs; nobody wants them,” he says. “Focus on paying your people.”

‘You can’t replicate those serendipitous moments’

As Fortune’s Chloe Berger reported, younger workers are demonstrably less loyal to their workplace, and many have joined the Great Resignation in search of higher salaries. Their approach to their jobs—as a means to an end rather than a one-stop shop for friends, advancement, and challenge—is only gaining steam as the pandemic goes on. 

In the Capterra results, workers who attended Zoom happy hours, or even good-natured efforts to connect employees, like virtual Jeopardy or trivia, near-uniformly panned them as underwhelming. “You can’t replicate those serendipitous moments where groups of people linger around and strike up a connection,” Westfall says. “So any money you spend on Zoom events are definitely better used elsewhere.” 

Namely, for companies who traditionally throw a big work party at the end of the year, Capterra’s research suggests a solution: This year, don’t bother trying to move it online. “Everyone will be happier if you put that money towards things employees actually care about,” he says, suggesting compensation or bonuses, which will be roundly appreciated. 

“We talk about that work/life balance, and this is the perfect place to narrow in on,” Westfall says. “No one wants their boss to say, ‘Hey, I know you’ve been in Zoom meetings all day, but attend one more fun one afterwards!’”

The lack of motivation to make work friends is a good opportunity for companies, Westfall says, adding that companies should not be trying to force friendships in any event. 

For those who cherish their work friends, all is not lost. The pandemic has more than proved that deep bonds can be made despite remote environments and the lags of a low-bandwidth Zoom call. But the benefits of removing worker camaraderie from a company’s list of priorities—namely, by holding off on paying for a Zoom comedy show or live band—stand to benefit everyone. Just don’t forget to ask your boss where that leftover cash is going.

Never miss a story: Follow your favorite topics and authors to get a personalized email with the journalism that matters most to you.

Read More

Great ResignationCompensationReturn to WorkCareersLaborSuccess Stories