Should we be taking work friends more seriously?
To some, work friends can seem overrated. But research suggests they’re key to a happy life.
A couple of good mates makes work more engaging. And that tends to lead to increased levels of satisfaction in life more broadly.
Benefits aside, that same research reveals we can have a hard time being open to developing work friendships in the first place.
It’s like there’s an invisible line drawn right down the middle of life – with colleagues on one side and ‘real friends’ on the other.
But I want to challenge that thinking and encourage you give it a go with colleagues you resonate with.
So what’s this mental block all about?
People find it difficult to see colleagues as friends for all different reasons.
Maybe we’re not used to being friends with people of different ages or genders. Or maybe we’re worried that our life outside of work may not be well understood by people in the office.
We can get stuck in that ‘super professional’ mentality and forget to let our guard down with people we trust or build rapport with.
But think for a minute about the fact most of us spend more time at work than we do with our family and friends…
Now add in the bit where science says work friends make you happier…
Not convinced yet?
The benefit of work friends
Apart from finding work more engaging and feeling more satisfied with life in general, work friends also mean you’re more likely to stay with your employer for longer.
This trend for longevity has a knock-on effect where people begin planning to forge long term careers with their current employer.
Not only are they staying in the same job for longer, they’re actively planning and seeking out ways to establish and grow their career by staying put, instead of jumping ship.
My personal experience with work friends is one of an inbuilt support system. People who better understand your workplace, who relate more easily to your experience during both the highs and the lows.
The workplaces I’ve enjoyed most, are the ones where I’ve had one or two good friends to share my experience with.
Having a few good work mates gives you the opportunity to be your authentic self.
With friends you trust you can relax and forget about being the perfect, overachieving employee we all hope our bosses think us to be.
We don’t have to be ‘on’ all the time and we have an empathetic sounding board to share our experiences with.
Have you ever come home from a hard day at work and had difficulty explaining it to your partner or friends?
Before even getting to the nitty gritty, you have to hash out who’s who and give a turbo-speed rendition of the full backstory.
Work friends remove that hassle. And while your ‘real friends’ still care, they might not always have the insight we wish for…
Setting clear boundaries
So if we agree that work friends have some pretty impressive pro’s, maybe it’s time we look at the con’s.
As with any friendship, a work friendship will come with both highs and lows.
Friends can disagree sometimes, and friends can also get a little carried away.
While drinking champagne and singing karaoke might be a blast during your weekend catch-ups, you may need to reign it in during your next work function.
Work friends might also tempt us to focus more on the social aspects of work life, rather than the actual job at hand.
With all that in mind, my number one rule about friends in the workplace is setting clear boundaries.
Most of the time, if you’re in the workplace, work always need to come first.
Keep professionalism front of mind and keep a healthy balance between getting work done, and having a good time.
I’d also suggest to tread carefully around close friendships with your manager or direct reports. And to make a concerted effort to handle conflict or disagreements carefully.
Don’t let your mental block limit you from potential friendships
A few good work mates can take you a really long way in terms of enjoying your workplace and your work life experience.
I’m not advocating we become best mates with every person we work with. But I AM encouraging us all to give it a go with people we resonate with.
Work friends can turn up the dial in terms of job satisfaction and real workplace enjoyment. So take a deep breath, think of the benefits, and give making real work friends a go.
Until next time,
Want to read more? Read Why you should be celebrating your work wins and Peer to peer mentoring: everything you need to know.