Making Friends at Work
By Joanne Richard
Love the one you’re with – particularly the one you work with. Office friends are really good for your health. They make us happy and feel connected.
Actually, having no work friends at all will shorten your lifespan – that’s according to research from Tel Aviv University which documented a 140% increased risk of dying over the study period for those with no peer relationships.
That’s bad news for me because I don’t have a single friend at work – I work from home and never go into a corporate office. So I’m not reaping any of the health benefits or stress busting boosts that come from workplace friendships and the emotionally supportive environment.
I’m all alone but far from alone when it comes to this dilemma: Lots of us are loving the flexibility, autonomy and no commute of working remotely but it can get pretty lonely. To beat the blues and get some face-to-face time, for me there’s community and friendly faces to be found at local coffee shops.
It takes work to have social support when you’re in an office of one but it’s imperative to get out of your bubble: “Network, network and do more networking,” stresses workplace expert Lynn Taylor. “Join professional associations, the Chamber of Commerce, Toastmasters, take courses to keep you on your game, find a mentor... Hang out at your local Starbucks and you will likely see the same faces there on a regular basis.” Plus collaborative workspaces have all sorts of people showing up daily and offer another way of growing your friendship circle and business contacts in a vibrant work community.
Now for those heading into an office every day, there are plenty of possibilities to find friends, and a litany of positive returns. “Nothing gets done unless there is collaboration in the workplace, and that’s a lot easier if you have created friendships in the office,” says Taylor, author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant. “It’s the rare exception when projects don’t involve a mix of talents and people, across functions and even departments.”
Meaningful connections with co-workers are integral to success and happiness at work. “We all want to work in a place that is pleasant - and that’s the optimal route for you to deliver the best results, while advancing your career,” adds Taylor.
You can’t work in a vacuum, disconnected emotionally from colleagues. It’s not good for you or business. While flying solo may ace the occasional independent results and accolades, that’ll be fleeting. Sooner or later, says Taylor, we all come to rely on our colleagues and they come to rely on you, and when you sincerely pay it forward, you will get back more than you give.
So reach out and touch someone – emotionally. Workplace wellness expert Beverly Beuerman-King is big believer in the power of social connections. “An Australian study reports those who had a large network of friends outlived those with the fewest friends by 22%. Companionship provided by friends may ward off depression, boost self-esteem, and provide support.” Add to that fewer cardiovascular problems and immune problems, and lower levels of cortisol – the perfect RX for good health.
But don’t think you have to get along with everyone in the office to reap the benefits – that’s impossible. Not everyone is friend material and, face it, there are some annoying people at work. “There are times that you will need to assert your opinion that may be different from others. The key to getting along is to know how to communicate in a way that maintains the other person’s trust and dignity,” says Beuermann-King, of worksmartlivesmart.com. “So say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t be mean when you say it.”
No need to be argumentative; instead be encouraging. Build others up and truly value the contributions that they make. “You do not need to be best friends with everyone at work, but communicating in a positive way can help to build a positive, productive and enjoyable place to work.”
How to make friends at work:
- Give even if you don’t get! Offer to help even if you’re not getting anything back. Call it unconditional support - if you come to be known as a supportive team player, your colleagues will respond in kind.
- Go the extra mile on a project. Sure, it can seem exasperating or take longer than you anticipated but these are the times that will be remembered when you need help.
- Spend time out of the office with co-workers, whether it’s lunch, coffee or an occasional dinner. Getting to know the person behind the professional image can create a lasting lifetime friendship.
- Stay out of the rumour mill. It’s easy to be pulled into gossip or between warring factions, but the best way to keep friends is to stay away from water cooler chatter.
Guard against these workplace friendships:
- If you have entrusted someone or confided in them, and find that it’s soon broadcast in your office, then you know that you are not dealing with a genuine friend.
- If your colleague really isn’t that supportive when you are down, minimizes your accomplishments or doesn’t seem to want to see you succeed, then heads up.
- If they seem envious when you experience success, stay away.
- If they seem territorial about their area or threatened, you’re better off not establishing bonds beyond a cordial friendship.
Leadership coach Lynn Taylor