My co-worker and cube neighbor is a fantastic singer. Every Friday afternoon, we rejoice in the weekend that is upon us. She’ll start singing a lovely song in her perfectly tuned voice that puts the rest of us non-Mariah Carey-sounding folks to shame. Inevitably, we’ll turn on the YouTube acapella Disney medley, sing along and glide through the afternoon while getting the rest of our work done.
This small yet significant example is just one reason why having friends at work is so important to me. When so much of my daily life is spent at my job, positive workplace socialization is imperative to my overall happiness, sanity and most importantly, my productivity. Early on in my career, I learned the value of making friends at work, and nearly 13 years into my career, some of my closest friends are those I’ve met in the workplace.
In my full-time job with the military, I have two “work besties” who often serve as the fine line that separates my sanity from insanity. Most recently, one of my work friends, whom I’ll affectionately refer to as work bestie #1, and I did the Whole30. If you’ve ever done this torturous yet life-changing meal program, you know how difficult it is. Misery certainly loves company, so she created a chart and hung it up on the cabinets we share in between our two desks. For every day we successfully complete, we check off another day.
Work bestie #1 and I have another friend who sits just around the corner from us – we’ll call her work bestie #2. Together, we’ve developed fitness plans for our lunchtime workouts and often playfully shame each other into going to the gym when the other isn’t feeling motivated. When one of us is unexpectedly out sick, we’ll check in on one another. Knowing I have great co-workers who also serve as friends makes me enjoy my job more. I often look forward to coming to work because every morning we’ll grab coffee together, catch up on the previous night’s events and discuss what we need to get done at work that day. Not only do they serve as meal plan accountability partners and gym buddies – we’re also able to provide honest feedback and advice to one another and know that it won’t be shared.
So when I recently found out that work bestie #1 got a new job and is moving to Michigan, and work bestie #2 is getting deployed to Afghanistan, I was devastated. Even worse, they’re both leaving within a few weeks of each other.
This huge change forced me to reflect on why work relationships are so important to me. Ultimately I came to this conclusion: When I feel I’m a part of something, I feel happier and more happiness means an increase in productivity at work. It’s a win-win for everyone.
A 2015 article on the importance of workplace friendships from Fast Company said, “Those at work whom we see daily have the potential to increase our happiness as much as earning $100,000 more per year … workplaces that convert their employees’ untenable ties into the durable bonds shared by fast friends will have cultures and communities that are alive and generative – in one word, thriving.”
Like any relationship in life, the best ones are built slowly and over time. The Fast Company article said the best way to have successful workplace friendships is to find common ground, but avoid oversharing. “Avoid talking about romantic relationships, at least in the beginning. And be mindful of personal space,” according to the article.
The article also noted it’s important to stick to positive interactions and avoid polarizing discussions that may pit you against your potential new friend. For me, it’s easy to commiserate with my co-workers on the stressors of the job, but it’s also important to avoid whiney and negative mentality that can easily flourish in stressful work environments. Here are a few other tips for developing and maintaining work friendships:
Slow and steady wins the race. Don’t rush or unnaturally force a friendship. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your friendship won’t be either.
Be your best self. Sounds easy, right? Positivity and a friendly “hello” can go a long way.
Get to know your coworkers. Be interested – genuinely interested – in their lives and follow up.
Respect boundaries. If someone gives you the impression they don’t want to talk about something, don’t press the issue.
Stay positive. Negativity is contagious and spreads like wildfire.
Avoid gossiping about other co-workers.
Avoid becoming immediate friends on social media. Again, boundaries are important in cultivating work friendships.
When all else fails, remember listening to Disney medleys can help cure the most stressful work situations. Good music generally bonds most people.
This article originally appeared in the Credit Union Times.