We’ve all heard the warnings about being friends out of the office with co-workers we know from the office. And studies back up some of these warnings. For example:
- If you are promoted and your friend isn’t, or vice versa, there can be more jealousy than when there’s no personal connection.
- If you or your friend is moved to another office or division, it may impact job performance and satisfaction for either or both of you.
- If your friend is going through a difficult situation and is needy, you may become emotionally exhausted but can’t escape.
- If you and your friend talk about shared events, other friends and private jokes, your other co-workers may feel shut out and resentful and retaliate.
- If your friendship is going through changes, good or bad, you may both be distracted from work.
- If you and your friend are always talking about work, even when you’re out of the office together, you may become burned-out.
- If you and your friend ‘break up’, working together will become awkward and uncomfortable.
- If your friend advances to become your boss, or vice versa, boundaries and loyalties can be confused, co-workers can be jealous and suspicious of motives for the friendship.
So why do I still say that I enjoy having co-workers as friends, and some as best friends? Because the advantages outweigh the disadvantages for me and, according to a recent Gallup poll, for many other women, too.
The recent Gallup poll Women in America reports a link between having a best friend at work and working harder, being twice as engaged in the office, being loyal and staying with the company longer.
They also find that since we usually spend more of our waking hours at work than at home, we say we appreciate having someone there to applaud us and sympathize with us, and that sense of camaraderie helps improve our quality of work. In fact, Gallup found that two-thirds of the women they polled said the social aspect of a job is a "major reason" why they work.
It certainly is for me. I spend many hours a week meeting with fertility treatment patients, nurses, support staff and counseling them. I love having a confidant in the office who listens to me and counsels me at the end of the day.
My office friends also give me a different point of view to think about, give me resources and referrals, ideas and information, know-how and opportunities. For me, this all increases my sense of control and safety — and my office friends say they feel the same way.
One of the best parts of having besties at the same office is that they "get it." We can laugh together about work and life, instead of stressing out separately.
I don’t have an extended family nearby anymore, and many women I know are in the same boat. Our families and school friends are now Facebook contacts and group text friends. My work friends now provide some of the same daily support and feelings of belonging that family can provide. They gave me adult conversation when my daughter was young, good advice when she was a teenager and still give me objective feedback when I ask for it.
And I never worried about gossip spreading to my in-laws or ‘social’ friends because these office friends don’t know them. These friends were just mine. We all told each other things we would never say to our neighbor, PTA friends or (especially) our partners.
It sounds cliché, but sharing workplace goals, deadlines, difficult situations, victories, holidays, birthdays, successes and losses has given me some of the best, lifelong friends. I am lucky enough to still be working with them.
But right now, only two out of every 10 US employees say they have a best friend at work. If you’re not one of them, but think you’d like to be, get to know your co-workers by going to work-related events and asking them questions about their interests. Really listen to their answers so know if you share similarities. Then, see what happens naturally around those interests - with these cautions in mind: don’t target your boss and don’t become a part of clique. If friendships develop, take it slowly. Since you will be together daily for as long as you work together, trust and sincerity are basic requirements. I hope you find both and enjoy it.