Career Woman

Infographic: The power of workplace friendships (and how to get them)

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Workmates, huh? It’s bad enough you have to spend one-third of your life with them. Do you have to be friends with them, too?

Luckily most people don’t feel so fed up of their colleagues. Not all of their colleagues anyway. But in an age when contracts are short, competition is strong, and distractions are plentiful, it feels like we’re more likely to make friends commenting on random Instagram posts than by chatting to the sensible-looking person at the next desk.

Our parents’ generation are by no means a shining example of how to exist in a professional environment, but those ‘jobs for life’ they had meant that they formed strong bonds with their co-workers over the years, by attrition or by habit or by an unhealthy lunchtime drinking culture. These days, people who even work in a ‘workplace’ and not on their sofa or at the local café are becoming increasingly rare. And those with a regular cast of characters around them would certainly be encouraged not to take them for granted by those of us who see nary a soul between the postman and the woman who reads the six o’clock news.

But in fact, the impact of spending your working day with people that you consider to be friends – even if you never see them outside of office hours – goes way beyond passing the time of day and the occasional holiday snap. Chatting with colleagues makes you more productive (once you stop chatting) and keeps you alert and engaged in the workplace; more productive too.

And because life is not all about productivity, it’s worth pointing out that employees with friends at work report far higher levels of job satisfaction. They’re also more likely to summon the strength and energy to take on big challenges or recover from mis-steps if they have people in the office who have their back personally and not just professionally.

Having friends at work also creates a fabulous loop between your physical and mental well-being. Friends reduce stress (well, most of them do). Work alongside friends, and you’ll likely have a better day and a healthier cardiovascular system. Those who are lonelier tend to have higher levels of fibrinogen – a protein that’s connected to higher rates of stroke and heart attack. And of course, you’re likely to do better work when your body and mind are ship-shape.

How to make friends in the office

If your game-plan so far has been to get to the office, get your head down, and get to your desk before anyone spots you, hopefully these revelations about the positive impact of friendly interaction at work have got you thinking about opening your arms to your fellow work-humans.

But let’s face it, there are two especially good reasons why many of us don’t make friends at work: because we assume we have nothing in common beyond the immediate business at hand, and because we’re just not good at making friends (at least not while sober).

Well, nobody’s saying that you need to become best friends forever or even to see each other outside of work – indeed, that’s not really something that will happen unless you happen to hit that chemistry. But you can certainly become warmer and more trustful of each other than mere ‘work acquaintances,’ and often it’s only by making the effort to do so that you’ll realize there was more to the people around you than met the eye. A dark sense of humor here. A mutual interest in identifying obscure one-off 1980s chart hits there. A shared passion for making tiny sculptures out of office stationery.

No friendship is static, so forget the pressure to make it happen overnight. It’s more important to work at it, and remain open to different types of interaction from all corners of the office. You can be proactive by suggesting to grab lunch with someone who looks intriguing (and hungry). Or just make sure to turn up for at least one after-work tipple on Friday, and show your face at the Christmas party. Events like this can be a trial at the time, but subtly advance your relationships with those around you by putting them in a new context.

If even that sounds too much like letting your guard down, you can build trust and intimacy in the workplace by ‘working friendly.’ Ask people how they’re getting on, look out for people who might need your help, and don’t be afraid to show when you could use a hand. Look out for opportunities to work alongside new people or in new contexts (a project, a seminar) and treat these not just as professional opportunities but as a way to get to know people better.

Making friends at work can make a long-held job feel fresh again or empower you to excel quickly in a new role. And the value of feeling better at work will extend through to your personal life, too – whether you invite your work friends into it or not.


About John Cole

John writes on behalf of NeoMam Studios. A digital nomad specializing in leadership, digital media, and personal growth topics, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in the UK, Norway, and the Balkans.

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