Every year, Vault.com sends an Office Romance Survey (look out for the new and improved version in the next few days) examining interpersonal relationships in the workplace. The idea is that dating co-workers has become more common as we have found that working longer hours affects our personal lives. But the same can be true about friends.
Recently, More.com interviewed me for a story, titled How to Decide Whether Work Friendships Are Worth It. In the story, I joined other career experts in discussing the benefits and disadvantages of having friends in the workplace. Having spoken on the subject, I decided to go more in depth on the matter and analyze the pros and cons of making friends at work.
Pro: Where Else Are You Going to Make Friends — Making friends was so easy in school. We bad-mouthed teachers together; we played sports together; we ate lunch together, etc. You were able to find common ground there, but as you get older, making a friend starts feeling like asking someone out on a date. It’s just awkward and uncomfortable. But work is common ground that you can build upon. You work on projects together; you deal with the same co-workers and supervisors; you face the same stressors; and you look forward to the same weekend and can discuss plans fairly easily. It’s basically school for adults — the only thing missing is gym class. And that’s what ZogSports is for.
Con: You Already See Your Co-Workers Every Day — When I was unemployed at the same time as my now-wife was starting her own business, we saw each other every single day. At dinner, I would ask, “How was your day?” to which she would reply, “You were sitting 10 feet away all day — you know how my day was.” An important aspect of work is that it gives us a 10-plus hour break away from the people we care about, so we can continue caring about them. Seeing your co-worker at work and then after work and on weekends, too, might put an expiration date on that friendship. The phrase “catching up” exists for a reason. You can’t catch up with someone if you already know everything there is to know.
Pro: Friendships at Work Help the Company — When you develop a camaraderie with your co-workers and build friendships, you become even more invested in the company you work for. You're not only working for yourself; you are working for your work family. You want to see everyone succeed. This means being available for co-workers to help with projects, offering advice, and being a source of support when someone just needs an ear to bend. When everyone is working together for the common good, the company as a whole benefits. A lot of companies encourage friendships for that very reason. It’s good for the bottom line.
Con: Friendships at Work Can Be a Distraction — Friends are always under the microscope. Supervisors will notice you speaking with your friends and wonder if it is taking away from your work. Is the friendship a distraction? Are they spending too much time talking to their friend and not enough time working? Supervisors won't always see the long-term positive effects a friendship can have on work. They may see a waste of company time when two co-workers are laughing by the water cooler. In some cases, they might even be threatened by that friendship and the information being shared while bonding. There are many instances in which companies will find ways to separate friends.
Pro: Friendships Can Improve Work Productivity — When you develop friendships in the office, you also learn more about projects that may impact your work. There are many instances in which people work solo and don't realize how much their work affects others. As someone who works in public relations and marketing, I can't tell you how many times I've heard the following: "I didn't know that was something you could promote…" And then the person completes the sentence with either “on social media” or “to the press.” Meetings are never enough, because various stakeholders from different departments are not always in the same meetings. Socializing with co-workers out of the work bubble can open you up to new information and opportunities. Friends will also go the extra mile for one another, so you're likely to get answers to questions or get help with a project faster from a friend than from someone who doesn't know you as well.
Con: Rumors About Friendships Hamper Productivity — Friends of the opposite sex can often find themselves the subject of rumors and gossip. While the world is changing, and it is much more acceptable for co-workers of the opposite sex to have strong friendships at work, there are still traditionalists who view these relationships with suspicion. Why are they always going to lunch together? Why is she in his office all the time? Isn't he married? It's unfair to both co-workers and may cause unnecessary strain on their friendship — and on work in general — when the gossip distracts from the tasks at hand. At the same time, friendships between supervisors and subordinates are also subject to rumor, especially when the worker is rewarded in some way. Because of this, a good employee's reputation can be hampered by a friendship with a supervisor regardless of how good his or her work is.
Pros and cons aside, I believe it is important to cultivate relationships with co-workers outside of work, because that is where you are most comfortable. If you don't want your friendship to distract from the office, hanging out after hours and grabbing a few drinks can build camaraderie and foster a sense of family that is important for being more productive at work while enjoying your job.
When I look back at the jobs I had, I often associate the most memorable times with the strong relationships I made with co-workers. The stronger a relationship I had with my co-workers, the greater the affinity I had for the company I worked for. And that’s the most important pro in my book.
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