Workplace friendships; Friend or Foe?

Thank you universe for the recent inspiration! As I recently caught up with someone after quite some time apart, she casually mentioned a new topic for me to cover… workplace friendships. Do they help us or hinder us and our employers? We spend more time with them than anyone else… but are they REAL friends?

I listened as she described her blossoming friendship with another woman in her workplace. Although neither woman expected to become close friends, circumstances dictated that they had to work closely together and time together has this uncanny way of bringing people closer. This was no exception.

Her face lit up as she described this work friend. She admitted that despite her initial hesitance, it was a relief to have someone to trust, to collaborate with, and, at times, to use her friend as somewhat of a buffer between herself and other colleagues with whom she did not feel she had the same positive rapport. This was a place both women had to be every day and she admits that having a friendly face to chat to, and turn to for support was pretty invaluable. It seemed only natural that their friendship would spill over into their personal lives too. I don’t know if she noticed this, or placed any significance on the terminology she used, but she described this other woman, more than once, as her “best work friend.”

I wonder if there is any significance to the addition of the term “work” into the best friend concept? Are they real friends, or only friends with our work persona? Is it true that we compartmentalise our friendships into categories, and if so why? Best work friend, best female or male friend, best friend from high school, best mummy friend, best family friend, best childhood friend…. The list goes on. Are we our full selves with any of these friends, or only so far as sharing what is relevant to the role we play, or shared experiences past or present? How well do we really know these people outside of these roles and experiences, and how well do they really know us? How well should we know each other?

The last time I knew this person in any real way, she was indeed in need of a best female friend, preferring as a whole to gravitate towards male friendships. (Another post on this concept of women who prefer male friendships or avoid female friendship to follow.) I was genuinely delighted to hear she had formed such a strong and important friendship at work, being that much of her time, energy and self is invested there. She described all the positives of having someone at work, which extended to increased morale and productivity, if occasionally also bonding over joint disgruntlement over the management and politics of the workplace. The industry they are in doesn’t leave much room for friendships to lead to decreased productivity as each person has their separate role and work space to the others; so in this instance it was clear this friendship was nothing short of a sanity saver for her… and also for her friend.

It is all sounding positive so far, right? Unfortunately, things change.  Sometimes friends fall out and this can cause all sorts of discomfort, stress, distraction and the addition of other peoples unwelcome interjections, however well intended. Fortunately for her, this hadn’t happened. What has transpired is that her friend has decided to stop talking about the negatives of the workplace and instead leave it, and in effect; their friendship.

In the same manner as she had lit up when she had discussed this friend, her face fell when she disclosed this change. It was clear to me that this was impacting her on more than one level. Suddenly the prospect of facing the workplace alone seemed almost impossible. Her passion for the role had decreased and she had started to question her own choices – both her choice to remain in the workplace and past choices that she made which led her here. To add further complications to the situation, the place she used to work before this one, had now offered her friend a job.

She feels torn by this. She describes feeling happy in that previous workplace place in the past, however also takes a moment to note that she had her reasons for moving forwards too. There were conflicting feelings of regret at not making the same choice as her friend, but also acknowledging that her future must move forwards and not backwards. Now she is left to watch her friend be potentially happy there, and to question if her own reasons for leaving that very same work place were valid. She faces potential concerns that her friend will hear things about her from previous colleagues which may not be an accurate representation of her character. Would this alter her friend’s perception of her? Will there now be an added competitiveness to the friendship that did not exist before? Is that healthy? She has to wonder if the friendship will still hold its closeness now that they are no longer “circumstantially” spending as much time together, and, if her friend will still make the effort to maintain the connection they have built. Will she fall second place to her friend’s new colleagues? The friendship is in no way over, however, it starts to feel less solid and dependable than it was. There is a heaviness to it that did not exist before. Only time would tell if it was strong enough to carry the load. Both women are obviously hopeful and positive about the future, however we cannot escape the “convenience factor” I have discussed here before, and it’s power.

Added to this, her friend will need to be replaced with someone else at her current workplace; someone she will have to work closely with.  This unknown factor is also anxiety producing. Will they get along? If they don’t, how will she face the next year in the workplace feeling isolated and unheard and misunderstood? This uncertainty is already making her consider her options.

This is a great example of how pivotal friendships between women are. Even when we do nothing to influence the choices of our friends, our own choices still impact them deeply. Our friends have the power to change our lives, leave us questioning our own path, (for better or worse) increase or decrease our happiness and enthusiasm for work and life, and generally make life overall much easier. Just by existing. It’s amazing when you think about how important friendship is; yet at the same time how undervalued it is. This is particularly true in the workplace where friendships are often discouraged due to the negative implications or complications that can arise. The positives are widely overlooked.

In regards to this story, the question becomes this – was this person happier before this friendship formed? Before a sense of belonging mattered, or a sense of dependency existed and when a lack of this friendship was not missed? After all we cannot miss what we do not know….I think not. The positives of this friendship seem to have far outweighed the negative. Connectedness is the key to happiness, and is not something to ever shy away from. As a matter of fact it is something to strive for in all areas of our lives. This is ESPECIALLY true in the workplace as we spend more social hours there than any other single place. Our achievements in the field are closely linked with our sense of worth and confidence thus our productivity is greater and contentedness increased if we enjoy the people we work with. There is much to be said about enjoying your job. In my experience there is a direct correlation between enjoying the people and enjoying the job. You need work friends to be truly happy. Even if the friendships don’t extend beyond your time together in the employment, the friendships were still very real and valuable while they did exist.

In this instance, the lady concerned is considering having a child, so this change may be the very catalyst to the best thing that could ever happen to her. (Being a mother is her dream.) It is giving her the motivation she needs to make positive changes in her life and go after her own happiness in other areas outside of work.  Until then I am quietly confident that she will get along just fine with the new person and if not, she will reconsider her feelings towards other colleagues as circumstances bring them together. She did already mention her new “work wife” and a morning tea they enjoyed (endured?!) together to improve their relationship. Over cooked scone anyone? Lol

❤ Love

Your Best Friend ForNever