For the happiest and most engaged employees, work friends are an important component of their overall outlook and well-being in the job place, according to recent data. Gallup’s 2022 State of the Global Workplace Report estimates that the average worker will spend 81,396 hours, or nearly nine years, of their life at work. For some nations, it’s quite substantially more than that. For these reasons alone, workplace friendships are something that should not be ignored. These are the people you are spending an exorbitant amount of time with, and their influence on your life (and yours on their life) matters a great deal. If you’re struggling to feel connected to your work comrades, stay tuned. We’re diving into why work relationships are important and giving you a few tips on how to grow more meaningful relationships at your job.
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Why You Should Strive to Make Work Friendships
For many, their job is just a source to pay the bills. They don’t get much gratification out of it and don’t find purpose in it. However, for full-time employees, fellow coworkers are likely the people you see the most. Don’t you think it might be worth the effort to really get to know them? Well, according to research in the fields of social connection and employee retention, and overall happiness, it is! Here are a few reasons why:
1. Engaged workers improve the bottom line.
From an employer perspective, you want your workers to be engaged, not only with each other but with the overall plan and future of the company. Gallup research shows that employees who feel like part of the process, and who are devoted to each other, are less likely to miss work and leave the company. Their engagement also produces on average higher reports of job satisfaction, customer satisfaction, and a 23% higher profit yield. In short, it pays to have your employees invest in one another and get involved. Providing a friendly company culture is a good place to start.
2. Huge numbers of people report being lonely.
According to a recent survey by Statistica, approximately 33% of the world’s population reports being lonely. The Survey Center on American Life reports that only 13% of Americans say they have more than ten close friends. This number is down from 33% in 1990. This decrease is likely due to a number of factors including the rapid rise in social media leading to a decline of in-person interactions, the increase in remote work, and isolation initiatives from the COVID-19 pandemic. Continuing in isolation is not healthy—mentally or physically. If you’re feeling lonely, it’s time to consider making a change.
3. Strong relationships increase your sense of purpose.
When employees know that others are relying on them, not just to get a job done, but for accountability, friendship, and to make it through the day, their own sense of purpose is elevated. We all want to be needed by others. Forming close relationships with coworkers increases your ability to get the job done. “Teamwork makes the dream work,” and you are a vital part of the team.
4. Strong friendships help maintain health.
A study by the Mayo Clinic states that a supportive social network can help lower levels of depression, obesity, and blood pressure.
Psych Central says close friendships decrease feelings of isolation and lower stress levels, as well as improve self-esteem.
Basically, people who are supported, listened to, and feel connected to those around them are healthier overall. Obviously, this doesn’t account for genetic issues, but in general, those who feel accepted and cared for by the people around them have higher levels of overall well-being.
5. Strong relationships encourage loyalty.
Employees are much more likely to stick it out with a company if they love and respect their coworkers, and more importantly, feel respected by their coworkers and higher-ups. If you’re in a position of leadership, respect for every individual goes a long way. When strong friendships in the workplace are encouraged, not only will your employees be more loyal to you and the company, but they are more loyal to one another meaning they work together better, keep each other’s morale up, and don’t miss work for fear of putting extra strain on their friends.
6. Encouraging friendships push people towards greatness.
Greatness lies within each of us, but sometimes we need a little push. Having encouraging and supportive friends around us can be just the shove we need to present that big idea, go out on a limb, or think more seriously about future plans. All the data shows that when a company is full of engaged employees who can easily and effectively share ideas, everyone involves flourishes. Why employ people who are just there and doing the bare minimum to get through the day, when you can encourage an organizational culture where people work at their highest levels of genius and feel good about doing it?
7. Office friendships help decrease work stress.
According to a Gallup poll, when asked about yesterday’s stress levels at work, 44% of people claimed that they felt stressed at work. However, companies with high engagement scores and people who reported having a best friend at work reported lower levels of work stress overall. If people are less stressed, then they’re more productive and more willing to engage. Being a good friend to someone in the office can dramatically lower their stress level, and in turn, the whole ambiance of the room.
How to Make Friends at Work
Now that you know why you should make some friends at work, how do you jump that hurdle to becoming a better, happier, and more productive version of yourself? We won’t pretend for a second that making new friends as an adult is easy, but it might take less time than you think with a little effort. The great thing about forming relationships with coworkers is that you understand a great deal about each other from the get-go. You share stressors, goals, and everyday experiences that help you form a fast bond.
It’s important to note that many people don’t have a friend at work because they don’t particularly want one. That’s fine. Many people choose to keep their friendships outside of work, and just do their job, but research across the board shows that those of us with this mentality are generally less satisfied with our jobs, experience more stress, and aren’t as productive. Plus, if you’re reading this, then there’s probably something in you that is longing for companionship at work. Here are a few ways to start looking for your work bestie!
1. Work-life balance doesn’t equal work and life separation.
For years it’s been ingrained in us all this concept of keeping work and personal life separate. “You drop your problems at the door” kind of thing. The reality is that you don’t drop your problems when you arrive at work. You can put on a facade that you do, but those stressors and hurts impede your mental flow and physical health throughout the day. Having a friend who notices when you’re off and can offer some encouragement is a lifesaver.
Banish the idea that everything in your life should be kept separate from your colleagues. Begin sharing bits of your personal life and asking about theirs. What begins as small talk can quickly develop into a mutually beneficial friendship.
2. Join company team-building initiatives.
Yeah, yeah, we know. Everybody hates forced company parties. Team-building days, retreats, and “optional” happy hours are absolutely torture to some of you. However, you might also be surprised by what happens when you open your mind to the idea and give it a good shot. An hour of after-work antics can lead to new conversations and bonds that increase your overall job satisfaction, and help you make connections that can further your career. In pretty much all walks of life, it pays to know people.
3. Invite others into your vision.
What are your goals? What do you really want to get out of this job? Do you have dreams for personal advancement or for the company as a whole? Let others in on your ideas. They may be having the same ones, or they may have one that runs parallel and supports yours. Sometimes the missing piece of the puzzle is within the brain of a coworker at the next desk over. Sharing ideas is a fast way to increase work productivity, but also build relationships with those around you. Your bravery will encourage them to speak up too, and before you know it, dynamic changes are happening and valuable conversations are flowing, increasing everyone’s well-being.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask about personal lives.
People generally like to talk about themselves, some more than others, but when a person feels that you are genuinely interested in their life, they will gladly oblige. Don’t offer unsolicited advice and keep an open mind, but don’t be afraid to ask how someone’s children are doing or what their spouse does for a living. You’ll be able to gauge pretty quickly those that are not interested in talking and those who are seeking friendship.
5. Don’t forget your own worth.
The best way to make friends is to be a good friend, and you have what it takes. All of us have something to bring to the table, whether it’s overwhelming kindness, an encouraging spirit, a sense of wisdom, or an honest approach. All of these tools are valuable in the workplace, as are a great many more we could list. Don’t downplay or forget what you bring to the table. You are worthy of friendship. You have talents and gifts that others envy, and you are welcomed at the table—no matter what your brain tells you to the contrary.
6. Maintain reasonable expectations.
Don’t go into every conversation without a coworker expecting to walk away with a best friend for life. That is unreasonable. Set goals for yourself. Perhaps your goal this week is that you’re going to speak to two colleagues you’ve never talked to before. Maybe you set a goal to invite someone out to lunch or for drinks after work. Keep your goals attainable, and keep your expectations realistic. Some people will not be interested in making work friendships. Others will be nothing more than friendly acquaintances, and one might just be your next ride or die.
7. Accept invitations from coworkers.
If someone invites you to a weekend BBQ or drinks after work. Go out on a limb and accept the invite. We get it. You just want to go home after work, and you don’t really want to see anyone that reminds you of the office. However, when you begin to spend time with colleagues outside of work mode, you may find they are quite enjoyable folk, and those new perspectives eventually translate into the workplace as well.
8. Be brave and make the first move!
You may have to just jump! If you’re a shy person and not so great at small talk, it might be a big leap for you, but you just have to barrel off the cliff. Give yourself a little pep talk. Toss out those negative thoughts, and buy a coffee for your deskmate. An act of kindness and a genuine compliment can go a long way.
9. Put the phone down.
You can’t make real friends when you spend all your time scrolling through fake friends on social media. Put the phone down. Engage in real life. Everything on your screen is a curated and phony version of a life that doesn’t really exist. Put it away and live your actual life. People around you are longing for real connections. Be the one who sets the phone aside and engages a coworker in meaningful conversation.
10. Be honest, open, and real.
Presenting yourself as someone you aren’t is a complete waste of time. You might make a friend that way, but it won’t be a real friend, and it won’t be encouraging or beneficial for you. Be honest about your intentions. Be open about your life, and most of all be real. That means if you are having a rough day, be vulnerable about it, and just let your friend know that today really sucks. If something great is going on in your life, share it, and allow your colleagues to celebrate with you! Being part of a community is being able to share the good, the bad, and the ugly with the people around you and walk each other through all of it.
11. Look for those who are hurting.
When we walk through life with our work blinders on, we miss the cues from people around us. It’s likely that you have a colleague who is struggling, perhaps more than you. They may be stressed out under the load of their projects, being mistreated by another colleague or boss, or just a shy person who needs you to make the first move towards friendships. As you go about your day, keep an eye out for those who look stressed, worried, or tired. Offer a word of encouragement or a pick-me-up treat. A little perceptiveness goes a long way.
12. Don’t be afraid to speak up.
Sometimes the company culture is beyond your ability to change on your own. You may have to go to those above you and express your concerns. Don’t assume they don’t care or won’t listen. That’s a rarity these days. They know the statistics and the reports as well. It’s part of their job to know. They are likely looking for ways to increase employee engagement and better work culture.
Instead of complaining to your partner all the way home every day, perhaps the better way to go about it is to present your ideas to the higher-ups! If you’re thinking it, the likelihood is that your coworkers are having similar thoughts. Your speaking up could help you make friends in the office and decrease the stress levels not only for yourself but for those around you as well.
From furthering your own career to improving your mental and physical health to just getting the most enjoyment out of each day, having work friends is beneficial for you! You have to be there anyway, so you might as well enjoy your days to the greatest extent possible. You know that old saying, “The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same things and expect a different result?” If you aren’t content with your work situation, we guarantee most of your colleagues probably aren’t either. Be the change.
Work is a great place to make adult friendships, but it’s not the only route. Check out “How to Make Friends as an Adult (and Why You Should!)”
Ever heard the term work spouse? Find out if you qualify in “What is a Work Spouse? 20 Signs You Might Have One.”
Frequently Asked Questions
Estimates range between 81,396 to 115,000 hours will be spent at work by the average employee. Having friends in the workplace decreases loneliness and stress and increases overall job satisfaction.
It is not only “OK” to be friends with coworkers, but statistics show that those who have friends at work are more productive, happier with their jobs, and report decreased stress levels.
You spend more time with your coworkers than anyone else. The proximity, shared stresses, and understanding among colleagues are the perfect breeding ground for making workplace friends.