It’s 3pm on any given Friday in offices all across Sydney. There’s a clear dichotomy: One half of the working population is busy tying up loose ends before they head home, the other half is winding down, ready to head to the local pub with their workmates as soon as it’s beer o’clock. To which group do you belong? Do you work in an office which promotes co-worker camaraderie and where after-work socialising is a given? Or do you prefer to keep things purely professional with your colleagues and stick to business? Should you be friends with your colleagues – does it help or hinder your working relationship?
The Pros of Workplace Friendships
Most of us spend the better part of our day at work. Wouldn’t it benefit everybody if we enjoyed the company of our colleagues? Studies show that workplace friendships are linked to increased job satisfaction, job involvement, job performance, team cohesion, higher morale, organisational commitment, less time off and fewer sick days.
Interestingly, there is a clear gender divide: While women are more likely to seek workplace friendships for the social and emotional support in times of stress, men view workplace friendships in terms of the benefits to their own career or in helping them complete a task or job duties.
Dr Amanda Allisey from Deakin University is an expert in occupational stress and employee health and wellbeing who believes that workplace friendships should be nurtured. She says, “We spend more time at work than ever before. Our sense of meaning and purpose can often be linked to our work, and some of our longest standing friendships can be made through the workplace.”
Social gatherings outside office hours – whether it’s movie night, bowling or dinner and drinks – can impact positively on your work during office hours. If you are friends with your colleagues and work well together, it’s a win-win situation. You can speak freely, ask questions, bounce ideas off each other and seek out solutions together. Quite often, friendships forged at work can last a lifetime, even after you leave the organisation, if they are based on mutual trust, respect, compatibility and caring.
A poll by the Australian Institute of Management reveals the most important factor in keeping people at their workplaces is "good relationships with co-workers". From the survey's 2223 respondents, 67 per cent of them rate this higher than job satisfaction (63 per cent), flexible work arrangements (57 per cent) or great work/life balance (52 per cent).
Furthermore, a 2012 workplace study by Gallup found that employees who have a best friend in the office are seven times more likely to be engaged in their work. This number drops to just 10 per cent when employees keep their relationships purely professional.
The Cons of Workplace Friendships
Of course, there’s the flipside to this debate. Some people firmly believe that there is a time and a place to socialise – and your after-hour shenanigans with your colleagues isn’t it. What happens when you have a falling out with a work friend? What do you do when your office BFF moves on to another department or different job? How do you extricate yourself from a clique that gets too bitchy?
A workplace study done by the University of Auckland Business Review says that having friends in the workplace can create numerous difficulties such as the blurring of boundaries; having to devote too much time to the friendship; and distraction from work which ultimately result in reduced productivity.
Let’s face it, when socialising with your colleagues take precedence over your job responsibilities, your work suffers. It could be smarter to keep your personal and professional lives separate because when a workplace friendship self-combusts, the fallout is often disastrous. Personal or professional information can be revealed to the wrong person at an inopportune moment, and the negative atmosphere takes a toll on your health and happiness.
On the plus side, not being besties with your co-workers means that you can be emotional neutral to office gossip and workplace politics as well as concentrate better on tasks. Just remember, you don’t have to be best mates with the people sitting in your cubicle to enjoy your job.
Which brings us to our next question: Should you be friends with your boss? The short answer: No. While it’s important to have a good working relationship with your boss, don’t push the relationship into ‘best mates’ territory. Your co-workers might question your motives and you could be accused of becoming the boss’s favourite, especially when it comes to promotions. An article in Harvard Business Review reveals that it is better to stay friendly – but not form strong friendships – with your manager. There is an organisational hierarchy for a reason; manager/subordinate friendships are discouraged so that performance evaluations and promotions can be conducted fairly.
How to Make Friends at Work
All in all, we believe that office friendships are better for business – and for the individual. But making friends at work can be intimidating – especially when you’re new to the team. Psychologist and author Ron Friedman explains in his book ‘The Best Place to Work’ that there are three ingredients necessary for workplace friendships: proximity, familiarity and similarity.
Follow these tips to start building workplace friendships:
- Take the initiative. Say hello first and learn your co-wrokers’ names. Go beyond the superficial small talk. Find out about their interests, their families, their pet peeves.
- Get to know your co-workers in a less formal setting like after-work drinks, a team-building day, the office Christmas party or even during your lunch break.
- Go to work events and make sure to participate in them – these get-togethers are less formal and you’re more likely to strike up a conversation.
- Take things slowly – don’t rush into workplace friendships; in fact, be picky with who you befriend at work.
- Look for similarities and strike up conversations on these topics whether it’s a sporting team you both support, a shared passion or even swapping stories on the ups and downs of raising kids the same age.
- Join or start a group for like-minded colleagues to join: foreign films, a lunch-time exercise class, a cooking class, a trivia night club, etc.
- Suggest an event (a music gig, a movie, a pop-up restaurant, a fundraiser) and invite the entire team to join in.
- Be yourself. People can spot a pretender a mile away, so relax and be authentic. There’s no use in trying to make friends if your colleagues don’t know the real you.
- Remember, you can’t force friendships; if they don’t happen naturally and grow organically, they weren’t meant to be.
For more career-related advice and tips on how to survive the corporate world, be sure to check out more of our SkillsTalk articles under that topic here.