Becoming Real Friends with Co-Workers: The Pros and Cons

Once you begin to explore this topic, you’ll find there are strong advocates for both the ‘yes’ and the ‘no’ case. While some of these are simply well-founded opinions, there have also been numerous studies done which tend to indicate that making friends at work is a positive move.

In the end, what it all boils down to is that it’s your choice. When you’re friendly towards the people you work with, it’s up to you whether you choose to take that day-today camaraderie and build it into something stronger. It will also hinge on the type of work situation you find yourself in. And of course, the type of person you are.

High pressure ‘life and death’ occupations – such as those found in the ambulance, medical and allied professions, police, rescue and fire service, armed forces and so on – bring opportunities to truly connect that others following more banal pursuits rarely experience. Solitary occupations – like farming, writing, artistic pursuits and similar will also often see like minds melding with resultant lasting friendships. And workers in the trades seem to mix quite freely AH – even if it is only at the pub.

But how about business – from the lowliest levels of office admin up to the lofty reaches of the Boardroom? Is Corporate Australia an ideal place in which to foster and grow proximity friendships?

It’s tempting to say that the jury is still out on that one. Research projects indicate that Australians are not in favour of cosying up with their workmates. “Walk away at the end of the day” seems to be fairly commonly held maxim.

So… what are the benefits and the drawbacks?

On the plus side, pundits claim that stronger relationships that extend through and out of work time, equate to better engagement, stronger connections and higher productivity, on the job.

  • For most people, work can consume many hours of their lives. So, most will certainly feel happier going into a workplace to team up with a friend or friends. Studies have shown people were less likely to call in sick and would often put up with a job they didn’t really like, simply because they worked with people they considered their friends.
  • When friends at work share a common goal, they encourage each other to do their best (but then so does a healthy team spirit!)
  • A person who has a ‘friend in their corner’ reportedly will take more calculated risks and show more initiative. Everyone feels safer and better supported with a friend at their back.
  • Having someone close enough to talk things through with can alleviate many normal day-to -day workplace stresses.
  • Having friends at work can enhance the feeling of a common purpose or contributing to something bigger than yourself, which in itself can be motivating and rewarding.
  • For a lot of adults, work and the networking that comes with it, is one of the few opportunities they have meeting other like-minded adults.

Even with all that, friendship expert Irene S. Levine, a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine, says these work-based friendships, need to unfold slowly.

“Two people need to begin to slowly build trust with one another,” she says. “Friendly overtures can take many forms: helping with a project, asking to join you for a lunch, asking to have a drink after work.”

Miriam Kirmayer, another therapist and friendship expert, says connecting with people at work can also positively impact our mood, stress levels and obviate the risks of burning out.

“Knowing you have people to turn to for meaningful and stimulating conversations, casual chit-chat, or emotional support can greatly improve our sense of well-being as well as our actual output and productivity at work,” she says.

But others are quick to point out the potential negatives to developing a friendship from workplace contiguity.

  • Personal relationships can get in the way of work. If you happen to have an argument about something personal it may affect how you interact with each other at work until you sort the problem out.
  • You can hedge yourself in. You can’t just walk away or ghost your former friend when you have a falling out. You will need to continue to work together and promote an equable and harmonious team culture.
  • You can easily do damage your image and respectability. Revealing your party animal too soon in a workplace friendship can be disastrous.
  • It can be hard to set your boundaries. People can see friendship as a way to advance their careers. So you need to make it clear that when you’re at work everyone is equal and there won’t be any special treatment for your friends over the rest of your colleagues.
  • It all becomes more precarious when the person you befriend is your manager or boss. These friendships require considerable caution because if they go askew, they may jeopardize your employment or future prospects.

Friendship expert Miriam Kirmayer says: “Much of the recent research coming out supports that investing in workplace friendships actually promotes productivity in the long run.”

However, she agrees that being friends with colleagues can also lead to experiences with jealousy, competitiveness, and mistrust, which can take away from the quality of our friendships and, in turn, our emotional well-being.”

And just for your interest …

There are some great example of workplace friendships that ensure. Barack and Michelle Obama met at work where she was the boss and he was her assistant.