Friends in the workplace – Yes or No

Friendships are beautiful and a good friend with whom you can vent and share problems and who listens without judging is invaluable. A workplace on the other hand is one which for many is fraught with pitfalls and because it’s a place where we spend the majority of our time, having a friend there may be good. But is having a work buddy something that one cultivates? Given the time we spend at work, it is inevitable that some sort of friendships at work will be formed.

It’s very natural to look for friends at work, and it’s necessary for professional success. Since we spend most of our time at work, and if we don’t like the people we work with, getting through the day becomes even more difficult. Happier and more productive days will happen if we enjoy the company of our colleagues. Workplace friends improve the good days and make the poor ones bearable. While being social at work will help raise morale and satisfaction, one must also set limits with friendly colleagues.

There’s a lot of evidence that workplace friendships fulfil a basic human need for companionship, and are necessary to some degree. Research has found that it can even fuel greater job satisfaction: In a survey of more than 195,600 employees in the U.S., Gallup found that 20% of them said they had a best friend at work. This was also the group that reported being most engaged and committed to their jobs. But workplace friendships can be tricky, especially between managers and employees, or senior and junior employees. In that scenario, there’s always going to be a power dynamic in play.

While being social can help boost morale and happiness on the job, one needs to set boundaries. Instead of striving for friendships at work, it’s better to be friendly with coworkers, according to some experts who say that ith professional relationships, one can grab coffee or lunch, but not necessarily invite them home for a barbecue or special family events.

Today’s workplace is different from a few years ago with remote work and social distancing making workplace interactions more difficult. Without meeting colleagues and co-working face-to-face, having close friendships will be slim and making work friends will mean an extra effort.

Having a good friend at work one can confide in and commiserate with can be a blessing and while work friendships can be a boon, they can also be a bust. The truth is that many of the work friends we have will end when the job ends. You may keep in touch for a couple of years or so, but over time, you tend to drift apart, because the biggest binder between the two, the company or organisation no longer exists. But there may be a few work friends who transcend the organisation to become true friends, but this is rare and quite far between.

A 2014 Globoforce survey found that people with workplace friendships are nearly three times more likely to say that they love their companies and two times less likely to be poached by another company. But in the throes of a new work friendship, sometimes it’s easier to forget that a work friend is a colleague first and a friend second. So one has to be a bit more careful about what is shared with them as it may come to bite you from behind.

So if you are making work friends or have friends in the workplace, here are some tips on how to deal with them.

Be mindful of oversharing – You may have to share personal information to make friends at work, but you should proceed with more caution than you would for non-work friendships. Remember to always keep it professional and respectful. Share on a need to know basis and be vague. Don’t be dismissive also but keep it professional. Sharing needs to be very nuanced and balanced because on one hand, forging deeper, more intimate relationships requires self-disclosure and vulnerability; on the other hand, if a work friendship spirals downward, the person can use personal or sensitive information against you. Whatever one shares with work friends, make sure you never dislose information that can create animosity, that is stigmatized, or that could get you fired.

Be mindful of the office hierarchy – Be very careful and know that at the end of the day, your boss or your manager is still in charge. Even if your workplace is very laid-back and your manager your age or even younger, they are still the boss and enforce workplace standards. You can be friendly with your manager or someone who manages but be careful about how your friendship affects your professional relationship and how it may be perceived by coworkers. Make sure that others don’t worry that there’s favouritism at play no matter how equitable things are.

Be mindful about confidentiality – You need to be careful about sharing anything with work friends that you’d like to keep secret from your boss. Even if a colleague assures you of their confidentiality, they may and in most cases will reveal your information if someone asks them or if they have a bone to pick with you at a later stage. Before sharing something with a coworker, ask yourself how much would you want others to know and only share what can be freely shared with everyone. And don’t ever write down anything that you don’t want to be saved for posterity. Remember, what happens on the internet, stays in the internet.

Be mindful about resolving disagreements – In every friendship, disagreements happen, but one should not let personal disagreement mess up professional relationships. Having negative relationships with co-workers is a huge predictor of quitting a job and these relationships can be distracting and de-motivating. So if a work friendship is on the rocks, handle it as calmly and professionally as possible, so you can either salvage the friendship or move on calmly, so it doesn’t impact your work life. Identify the source of the conflict and resolve it professionally. Do not spread gossip or rumors, do not try to get coworkers on your side, or cast your friend in a negative light with a supervisor.

Now that we’ve established how to deal with workplace friendships, let’s see what are their benefits. The benefits of work friends go far beyond having someone who is 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. A Gallup reports that 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 to run 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. It also means having 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 work friend also increases a greater knowledge of the business and opportunities. If either of you leaves your job, you can be a reference to 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.

Having friends at work can increase job satisfaction, performance, and productivity, research shows. But it should be treated with care and not become too close with colleagues. According to Gallup, getting a job BFF is one of the most significant factors in employee engagement and satisfaction. There is a concrete link between having a best friend at work, and the effort employees expend in their job. Those who have a best friend at work are seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs, are better at engaging customers, produce higher quality work, have higher well-being, and are less likely to get injured on the job. Women who strongly agree they have a best friend at work are more than twice as likely to be engaged compared with the women who say otherwise.

According to Gallup, women who firmly believe they have a best friend at work are less likely to be actively searching for or monitoring job openings, are more associated with their colleagues, respect what is expected of them, and trust their honesty and ethics and are less likely to record a negative daytime experience, such as workplace stress or feeling tired.

Linkedin said having a friend at work boosts employee satisfaction, employee motivation, and productivity, particularly among your younger employees the ages between 18 and 24 as socialising and friendships are critical for moving up the career ladder, according to 1/3 of Millennials. They also found out that 51% of staff maintain contact with former coworkers, resulting in boomerang employees or increased turnover in poor environments.

When you form friendships with colleagues outside of your immediate teams or department, it pens up to sides of the business you wouldn’t normally be able to access. This can help create a more comprehensive understanding of what the company is working towards, and how other departments operate, reveal some of the organisation’s pain points, and help an organisation’s people grow by learning about and appreciating each other’s experiences.

Unfortunately, not everyone wants to be friends with their coworkers, especially in super-competitive work environments. Some people will use even the slightest tidbit of information to get ahead, so before you begin to share important or personal details with someone, make sure you trust them implicitly. Similarly, social media is not an aspect of your life that you should share with everyone. While in the beginning stages of any work relationship or collaboration, you may not want to give a person access to your Facebook or Twitter pages. You should connect with colleagues on LinkedIn, however. The site was built for professional affiliations, so it would be more than wise to add a colleague, but hold off on giving colleagues access to any site that may house personal or social information. Oversharing details of your personal life and finances can come back to haunt you. Sharing personal details with a colleague who you thought had your back can also damage your career prospects if those details are used against you. Many companies are hierarchical, and when it comes to promotions or project assignments, close friendships can sometimes cause friction.

Friendships at work get even trickier for managers and their subordinates. Managers would not want to make it seem like they are giving one person an advantage or a pass for bad behaviour. Being considered too close with a coworker can reflect negatively on you if your friend isn’t viewed in high regard. You may be tarred by association and hurt assignment and project prospects, or prevent you from being included in confidential news if your peers fear it might be leaked to an untrusted colleague. When a work friend starts venting out too much, you run the risk of getting stuck in a negative cycle. Co-ruminating is the process by which friends repeatedly go over a difficult event or emotion. It brings us together and increases friendship satisfaction, but also decreases well being, kicks up a level of depression and anxiety. You need to watch out for that.”

Employee retention is more critical than ever. Another pandemic side effect has been what analysts call the Great Resignation, which in August 2021 saw 4.3 million workers quit their jobs. Even as the unemployment rate starts to even out, worker attitudes have shifted, and money isn’t enough to keep employees anymore.

Having friends at work can be the bright spot of your workday—as long as you take the proper precautions. Making friends at work is easy, and mostly good for you. Compartmentalising life into work and not-work is stressful and potentially unhealthy in the long term. By managing friendships in a professional setting properly, one can have more fun at work, learn to relax a little, and begin to learn things about themselves and the organisation they’re a part of.

What are your thoughts on having friends at work? Is it a yay or a nay? I’d love to hear from you, so please comment below.

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