According to a 2021 study, Americans have fewer friends than they once had. Interestingly, the same study found that Americans are now more likely to make friends at work than in any other way, and men are often worse affected by this emerging trend.
The question is: just how important are workplace friendships? And how can remote workers make lasting friendships at work that lead to both emotional and professional support?
Why Are Work Friends Important?
According to Gallup, having best friends at work directly correlates with employee engagement and success. Having a best friend at work not only serves as a motivator for employees to look forward to going to work, but also has a direct impact on employee retention, productivity, and company culture.
Since the start of the pandemic, people with a best friend at work have reported that they feel less alone than those without one. Additionally, they're generally more satisfied with their workplace and therefore less likely to leave.
If you're still not convinced, here are my top three reasons why work friends are essential:
1. They're great stress busters.
Work can be incredibly stressful. If you're not careful, there's a great chance that you'll end up suffering from burnout. "People experiencing burnout symptoms are usually trying to live up to impossible standards and expectations from other people and themselves," according to Centres for Health and Healing. "Working excessive hours and not taking time to care for themselves properly – month after month – stress levels will build up. The relentless, ongoing pressure typically comes from various sources, including work, financial problems, underlying health issues, family and challenging relationships."
Having friends at work to whom you can vent or offer support is a good way to ground yourself and reduce stress. Work friends can lend their ear when things get tough and offer a different perspective when there's a dispute.
We've all been in a position where we're just starting a job and feeling extremely nervous about not being liked by colleagues, or about the nature of the job. A simple smile from a colleague can transform existential dread into excitement. When navigating a new role, having a friendly face in the office is unquestionably a godsend.
Moreover, having work friends creates a sense of camaraderie that makes teamwork enjoyable. Feeling seen and acknowledged by your colleagues can make a difference, especially if your role requires constant teamwork. A positive and nurturing environment leads to more innovation, creativity and communication, which are ultimately beneficial not only for the individual, but also for the organization as a whole.
2. Work buddies bring out the best in us.
When we're surrounded by colleagues we actually get along with, we're likely to be more productive and produce higher-quality work. This is because positive relationships create a sense of shared purpose and accountability that urges us to put our best foot forward.
Work friends can also serve as a sounding board when it comes to work in which you're not one hundred percent confident. They can help us when we most need it, teach us new things that can help to improve our work, and provide valuable feedback and ideas that can lead to collaborative innovation.
Finally, when we have a supportive group of people around us, we're more likely to enjoy what we do and therefore focus on the task. Instead of constantly looking at our watch, work friends can prod us to push harder and feel energized by our work.
3. Connections are everything.
As the adage goes, "It's who you know, not what you know." Making friends at work is crucial if you want to advance your career.
Building strong relationships with colleagues can be the final piece of the puzzle to get that well-deserved promotion, transfer to a better department, or even move to a better job thanks to a friend of a friend. Ultimately, connections are everything, especially in a professional environment.
Making Friendships in a Virtual Workspace
Work friends have the potential to open up a world of possibilities and perspectives. Virtual workplaces, in particular, offer the unique opportunity to make work friends based in different parts of the world – opening up our worldview and creating a work culture that's more inclusive, cosmopolitan and innovative, thanks to the wonderful cross-pollination of ideas.
However, while making friends as an adult is hard, making work friends in a virtual workplace is even harder!
If you're one of the thousands of people who've switched to the "digital nomad" lifestyle during the pandemic, here are some tips for developing rewarding friendships with your peers:
Be the first one to reach out.
First things first – don't be afraid to reach out to people in your work chat. A quick introduction has the potential to lead to a virtual work friendship, so never underestimate the power of saying "hello!"
Participate in virtual events and groups.
Some companies host virtual events and team-building sessions that encourage you to connect with your colleagues on a personal level. Others may simply offer channels where you can talk about your hobbies or share photos of your pets. Engaging with these events and groups is the perfect way to meet like-minded people and find your work bestie!
Opt for a video call.
Video calls are more personal than chats. Not everyone will be comfortable having their camera on, but video calling a willing colleague is a great way to start a friendly conversation and make yourself appear more approachable.
Ask for feedback.
Asking for feedback is a good way to build new relationships. It not only helps you gain different insights, but also shows your potential work friends that you trust their feedback and value their expertise.
Can You Ever Be Friends With Your Manager?
The relationship between a manager and their team members is a delicate one. Maybe you get along with your manager, but feel torn when it comes to actually fostering a friendship with them.
When dealing with this dilemma, it's important to remember that friendship is a two-way street. The relationship between a manager and an employee involves power dynamics that can make it more difficult. Managers can make or break their employee's career. This obvious power dynamic makes it difficult to be friends with your manager, as a personal argument can lead to a professional nosedive.
Power dynamics can be further complicated when team dynamics are involved. If you're friends with your manager, you may feel compelled to agree with certain decisions that you may not actually agree with. In addition, being your manager's bestie can harm your relationship with your colleagues, as they may feel that the manager favors you over them.
However, this doesn't mean that managers should be coldhearted. A good manager values each of their subordinates and encourages them to reach their full potential for the good of the team. Being an excellent communicator and a "people person" are essential managerial qualities, as managers have the responsibility to unlock the maximum capabilities of their team.
However, a good boss or manager should know that friendship with one of their subordinates can be a slippery slope, and they'll need to draw a line somewhere. Nevertheless, if the manager and the subordinate decide to become friends or have an existing friendship, they should communicate this with the rest of the team to ensure that everyone feels involved and valued.
If you enjoyed this blog, you may also be interested in these Mind Tools resources:
Chris is a passionate mental health and wellbeing writer and psychologist, focusing on sharing his experience and improving the lives of others. When Chris isn't researching the latest holistic and wellbeing therapies, he's spending time with his two cats, usually while curled up on the sofa reading a book.
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