How to Navigate the Benefits and Politics of Having Work Friends

How to Navigate the Benefits and Politics of Having Work Friends

Most of us spend at least eight hours a day at work. That could be more waking time than we have with our family and friends. So, it’s no surprise that a third of adults have met at least one of their closest friends at work. Work friends can be vital allies to push through stressful days as much as to share anything from achievements, memes, or comments on the latest episode of your favorite show.

In short, as stated by 57% of people, having a best friend in the office makes work more enjoyable. Similarly, another study showed that for 70% of employees, friends at work are the most important factor for happy working life. However, the benefits of work friendships are not just limited to employees. According to Gallup research, office friendship is correlated with better work engagement, performance, and retention.

How to Make Friends at Work

If making coworker friends is on your radar but you’re not a natural, let’s be honest, making friends as an adult is hard enough as it is, there are a few effective strategies you can use:

Introduce Yourself

Introverts won’t necessarily like this, but it’s as easy as it sounds. If there was no formal introduction from the company, either in person or virtually, just introduce yourself on the first viable occasion. Something like “Hi, I’m Amy. I started last week in the marketing department. What about you?” will be more than enough. Doing this in an office setting, maybe while having a coffee or on your lunch break is easiest.

Those who work remotely, on the other hand, could just send a quick email or instant message to start a conversation with teammates. “Hi, I’m Amy, the new marketing executive. I just wanted to quickly connect and introduce myself to have an open channel to collaborate. I’m looking forward to working with you on future projects!” this could be the perfect way to start.

Engage in Small Talk

The best conversation starters that could ignite friendship in the workplace are part of ‘small talk’. There are so many topics you can make comments about such as the weather, sports, hobbies, travel, art, or entertainment. They give you a very casual opportunity to find out if you share an interest with co-workers. Just avoid sensitive matters like politics, money, and religion.

Add Your Co-workers on Social Media

You might want to skip this suggestion if you’re the type that likes to share everything on social media, including potentially embarrassing or inappropriate behavior. It might be more harmful to you in the long run than anything else. But, if you don’t desire a clear split between your home and work-life, go ahead and add them. Maybe you’ll find out that you like to go on holiday in the same spots and have something to talk and bond about.

Bring Treats to Share to Work

Do you know what the best conversation icebreaker is? Food. If you want to find a way to your coworkers’ hearts and maybe turn them into work friends, just bring treats to share at work. Whether you love to bake, it’s your birthday and you want to share cake, or you found some exotic treats on your last trip, bring them to the office. No one will resist.

Eat in Common Areas, Propose Team Lunches and Participate in After Work Activities

If you work full-time in the office, resist the urge to eat at your desk. Not only will your health thank you later, but you might also make some work friends. After all, people are more relaxed and willing to engage in casual conversation while eating in common spaces.

If you work remotely most of your time, you could propose having virtual coffee team chats or in-person team lunches. Finally, be sure to attend all the non-work activities organized by the company such as team building or other events. They will give you the chance of meeting new people, even outside your own team, and are a great way of making friends at work.

Take Initiative

Above all, be open and don’t miss the chances that come your way. For instance, if your co-workers mention a particular restaurant they’d like to try, take the initiative, and offer to go together. If you find out multiple coworkers share a hobby or interest don’t be afraid to turn it into a group activity. Perhaps more people will join as well.

How to Maintain Personal Boundaries with Friends at Work

One of the most frequent reasons why people are hesitant to seek work friendships or just don't have friends at work is the idea that work and private life shouldn’t be mixed. Doing so would mean that eventually one of the two might be compromised. Many still even believe that coworkers are not your friends and will betray your trust if given the occasion.

While that is always a possibility, it’s true that there are ways to make it less likely and have your personal and work lives happily coexist. You can achieve this by setting clear boundaries with your coworker bestie on what you want to be kept exclusively between the two of you. On top of that you should:

1. Look for Coworker Friends with Similar Interests Outside of Work

Try and make friends at work with whom you share something in concrete other than work. It could be a sport, a hobby, or pretty much anything. You’ll be more likely to avoid the so-called “situational friendships”: those that end as soon as one of you changes jobs. Plus, it will be much easier to avoid talking about work outside of the office.

2. Avoid Gossip and Keep Confidentiality

Set standards and no matter how juicy, stay away from gossip and rumors at all costs. Remember that at work you are bound by confidentiality regarding company matters. It could be very detrimental to your career to share sensitive information with the wrong work friends, especially if you’re in a position of power.

3. Be Neutral at Work

If you’re in a managerial position, the last thing you want is for your employees to think you have favorites. It can fuel feelings of being left out and make the work environment less than ideal. Instead of always having lunch only with your close friends at work, you should invite also sometimes your entire team to join.

If you’re an employee and are tempted to complain to your work bestie about your company or manager, just don’t. If you really have to, at least don’t do it while in the office. Someone might overhear you or your conversations might be monitored, which could be detrimental to your career.

What to Do When Work Friendships Go Sour

What causes people to ask in the first place “should you be friends with coworkers?” is the concern that things can go wrong, and friendships can end while you’re still working in the same office. What they don’t know is that yes, although it’s tricky, maturely handling coworker friendship break-ups is possible. It doesn’t have to spoil your work environment or ruin your career. Above all, it shouldn’t prevent you from trying to make work friends. You could miss out on long and fulfilling friendships for years to come.

If you find yourself in the situation of ending a relationship with a coworker friend, try to:

  • Progressively interact in professional contexts more than personal ones. To do that, you could change your schedule, drive conversations on work subjects or cut personal conversations short in favor of work priorities.
  • Remain cordial. Avoid behaviors that could cause tension in the office, always try, and stay professional and amicable with everyone.
  • Take time off. If what happened is affecting your work performance and you need some time to get distance, consider using a couple of PTO days for a break.
  • Talk to HR for guidance. If the circumstances turned bad enough to require intervention from the company, you should always speak with your HR department for help in finding a way to improve the situation so the business doesn’t suffer.

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