Whether you’re in the early stages of your career or you’re a seasoned professional - it’s pretty hard to not make friends at work. In fact, building relationships should be a core focus for anybody who wants to have an enjoyable time in the workplace.
The reality is that we spend the majority of our lives at work, and not having any friendships at all would make it a pretty miserable place. But, defining what friendship at work vs out of work looks like is a tricky line to tread - and it can come back to bite us if we don’t approach friendships at work with boundary setting.
So, should you be friends with your colleagues? Yes, of course.
But, how do you create a friendship that is authentic but also professional? Let us help you out.
Trust should be your core foundation - and that takes time
Friendships at work are tricky because you are often thrust into a friendship a lot quicker than you would be outside of work - aside from school, there’s rarely a time when you have to see the same people day in and day out, aside from the workplace.
But, unlike school or university - there is a different dynamic in the workplace. You are often working in a team or towards something together, rather than academically where it’s purely your own merits that will guarantee your success.
Groups can equal tension, and hierarchical leadership (which isn’t present in school among friends) can also cause friction. Thus, building trust in a work environment is paramount to a good friendship at work.
But, this takes time. So, to create meaningful friendships, you need to spend a lot of time building trust - whether this is through your day-to-day interactions, creating space for vulnerability, and engaging in social situations inside (or outside) of the workplace.
Meaningful friendships aren’t built on gossip - so watch out for this at work
Something to be mindful of when building friendships at work is to focus on what you’re actually talking about. Does this person bring out the best in you? Do they have a good reputation among other colleagues? Are they someone who you could be friends with outside of work?
Meaningful friendships are not rooted in gossip, negativity, or creating an atmosphere at work: cliques can form and this can cause you a lot of issues with either leaders or even the wider business. Avoid gossipers (and gossiping) at all times; it will come back to bite you, it isn’t what constitutes a good friendship, and it also isn’t worth your time. If you need to vent - do this outside of work until you feel you have enough of a bond/trust with someone to do this productively.
There are three tiers of work friendship: Surface, core, long-term
Surface: These friendships are exactly what it says on the tin: surface level. You exchange conversations in the office/in virtual meetings, you don’t know much about each other - but the interactions are always positive. You work on projects/tasks together but rarely talk about your personal lives.
Core: These friendships have been built on 6 months to a year's worth of trust. Your core friendships are those who you can vent to (in moderation), can work with, and are also inspirational to work alongside. However, you are still in a position where you must tread carefully at times - you haven’t quite developed that level of communication yet where you can call each other out and be good critics of each other, but you know that the potential is there.
Long-term: These friendships are years in the making - you have (quite literally) been through enough scenarios in the workplace that you know each other inside and out, have great boundaries set and can have a solid relationship inside (and outside) of work. They’re the type of friend that if you (or them) left - you’d still be friends.
And finally, remember that your work friends are not the same as your friends outside of work (yet).
It is possible to have incredible, life-long friends from your job - but as we’ve said at the beginning of this piece, that isn’t going to happen overnight, so don’t trick yourself into a false sense of security. You still have to set boundaries with colleagues - and you have to be very specific with who you do (and don’t) share personal things with.