Where communities are easing COVID-19 restrictions, many companies are bringing workers back on site for all or some of their work hours, giving people a chance to see colleagues in person once again. When you think of reconnecting with co-workers, do you consider some of them to be friends? And does it matter?
According to recent surveys, the answer to the second question is yes. It is beneficial to have at least one friend on the job. Among other advantages, this can increase your engagement and productivity while at work, as well as your overall health, happiness and sense of well-being.
Gallup periodically asks employees of its client companies, "Do you have a best friend at work?" The prominent polling company found that respondents who answered yes to that question are seven times more likely to be engaged in their work, and 43 percent that group said they'd been recognized for their work in the past week.
According to Sally Percey, who wrote "What Should Leaders Know About Friendships at Work" for Forbes magazine, Wildgoose, a team-building company, found that 57 percent of respondents it surveyed indicated that "having a work best friend makes their work more enjoyable," while 22 percent said it "makes them as, or more, productive." Wildgoose also concluded that "many workers who don’t have strong relationships in the workplace may be struggling with loneliness since 15 percent of those who don’t have a work best friend would ideally like one," Percey wrote.
Most of us know that friendships on the job can sometimes be complicated—if, for example, your best friend gets promoted and you do not—but as with any type of friendship, awkward situations can be managed with respect and caring. The main thing to avoid is making so many friends that you socialize too much during work hours.
So, if you've been overly cautious about making friends at work, how do you pick the right people for friendships and how do you develop and maintain them? Not surprisingly, choosing friends at work is much like choosing friends outside of work. Think about the people you're drawn to, the ones you enjoy, whose humor gives you a lift and who appear to be genuinely interested in you.
Then set boundaries regarding when you'll socialize, perhaps during lunch or when there's a lull at work. The way you communicate is important, too. For example, a running exchange of text messages throughout the day would likely interfere with productivity.
And watch out for red flags such as someone who loves to gossip. We all indulge in gossip occasionally, or need to let off a little steam sometimes, but when gossip dominates a person's conversations, it's healthier to keep your distance. Another potentially stressful situation is when a person is your boss or vice versa. The power dynamics can make these friendships more challenging (but not necessarily impossible).
The truth is, we often spend more time with co-workers than we do with family. The friendships we establish during the work day are important. And they can make a huge difference in the quality of our lives.
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