It can be tricky to know how to navigate friendships in the workplace. How much should you connect with your co-workers? Too much, and you might not get enough work done. But too little, and you miss out on collaboration, overwhelmed by your lonely workload.
Luckily, we’ve got a few pointers:
1. What are the benefits of work friendships?
2. How do you make work friends?
3. What does a typical work friendship look like?
4. How do you have good workplace boundaries with work friends?
What are the benefits of workplace friendships?
The benefits of work friends go far beyond having someone who’s always willing to loan you their stapler. Research shows that employees who get super close with their co-workers are happier at work, more engaged, better with clients, do better work, and are less injury prone. In comparison, Gallup reports “those without a best friend in the workplace have just a 1-in-12 chance of being engaged.”
When you find the right balance between personal and professional, you reap the rewards of friendships at work.
Finding a colleague you can be close with means having:
- A go-to person to ask for advice and help. It can be less intimidating to ask a colleague for assistance than running to your boss every time a minor issue crops up. This is an easy way to reduce the learning curve and get up to speed quickly in a new role.
- Someone to chat with during the day. Companionship makes the work day pass faster. Having a friend you can gab with means you’ll even look forward to coming to the office.
- A greater knowledge of the business and opportunities. If either of you leave your job, you can be a reference of the other. Also, when both of you move on to different roles, your friendship can progress like a natural friendship, and/or you can keep an eye out for opportunities for one another.
How do you make work friends?
If you’ve just started a new job, your focus is probably on learning as much about your new role as possible. But you should also set aside some time to connect with your new co-workers. Positive work friendships are a key factor in millennials – who are notorious for job-hopping – staying at their place of employment longer. Convince your co-workers to make nice with the new kid by:
- Treating them with treats. Bring in your best chocolate chip cookie recipe (or if you’re not the cooking type, swing by your nearby pastry shop) to lure teammates to your cubicle.
- Suggest a work event outside the office. If your new boss hasn’t already, suggest they host a happy hour, team lunch, or other activity that provides a more casual opportunity for your colleagues to get to know you.
- Go for walks together. You can also ask your individual team members to come with you on coffee runs, or pick a time to get lunch together. Sometimes, a quick walk is an easy way to start a conversation -- one that can continue as you keep working with that person.
- Show interest in their interests. Use clues like photos on their desk, cubicle decor and pieces of info you collect, to chat with your co-workers about their interests. Compliments can go over especially well -- whether it’s their clothes, cooking, or even just their work, everyone shines under a little attention and it will endear you to them faster.
Follow these tips and you’ll be fast friends with your co-workers. But how do you keep your friendships going without the workplace getting weird?
What does a typical work friendship look like?
When you’re friends with someone at work, they tend to treat you better. “The stronger the friendship, the more of a buffering effect it has on negative behaviour.” But all that making nice can leave you emotionally exhausted by the end of the day. The easiest ways to manage your emotional investment throughout the day are to:
- Talk about what you have in common: work.There’s no need to relate everything back to work, but maybe your co-workers in different departments will be interested in what you’re doing. You can also gain a fresh perspective from working with someone who thinks differently than you do, and it’ll likely make your workload easier to have those new perspectives on your work.
- Use your breaks for some “We" time. Obviously, if your work is more solitary, lunchtime and coffee runs are a great time to connect with your coworkers. But if you’re constantly working and talking, there’s no shame in getting out for a walk with your own thoughts.
- Enjoy the small talk. Making friends through work can be tricky because you’re spending a lot of time with people you’re still getting to know. Asking little questions like what people did during the weekend, or where they’re going on vacation, can help you learn about someone slowly, over the months and years you’re working together.
How do you have good boundaries with work friends?
If you don’t maintain good boundaries, work friendships can get tricky. Some common scenarios and solutions are:
- Set time limits, and keep to them. Be clear with your work friends that work is your top priority at work. Be mindful of time and topic when chatting with work colleagues. Let them know some things are better left unsaid until you’re offsite and off the clock, and some things can be left to Slack or email so they don’t become distracting conversations.
- Be aware of your role, and the work limits that come with it. Know that your title could mean you have to be more careful than others. If you’re in HR, you’re dealing with less grace for gray areas with work friends. You’re expected to do everything by the book. If you’re in a role that sees sensitive info like unreleased financials, be careful about what documents you leave lying about and what you discuss with your work buddy. Regardless of how much you gel with the new intern, you can’t get too close with them because of the power dynamics at play.
- If you’re the manager, then remember: first and foremost, you’re their manager. You have to avoid any favoritism. Bond with your employees to create a positive work environment, but always maintain a professional distance. Activities like team building exercises and 1:1s can maintain that professional/personal balance you’re after.
Work friends can be the positive boost your career needs. Just be sure to bring balance to friendships with coworkers by managing your boundaries, emotional investment and how much you share.