In my teens and twenties, I didn’t think much about how important it was to like the people I worked with. At the time, I was working as a waiter in a restaurant in Toronto and making friends with my colleagues was part of the experience.
But when I became a university professor and executive educator, I realized the importance of relationships in the workplace. I now know that workplaces are better when colleagues have a good relationship with each other.
These findings contradict a common sentiment I’ve noticed in my 20 years of working with employees: believing that you don’t need to be friends with your colleagues. While this view is understandable, it’s not a useful one—especially when it comes to working with individuals you don’t get along with.
Types of friendships at work
About 30% of North Americans say they have a best friend at work. Some reported having regular friends at work.
It is useful to differentiate between different types of friendships, as not all relationships offer the same advantages. By defining the types of friendships, and understanding the benefits of each, we can make informed decisions about whether investing in specific relationships is worthwhile.
Using previous psychological research on the different types of friendships in the workplace, along with my experience working with thousands of managers and leaders, I have developed four categories of friendships for the workplace.
1. Best friend at work. This is a very close friendship with a partner characterized by personal disclosure. Best friends at work have a high regard for each other, show trust and honesty.
2. Workplace is friendly. These are close friendships, but not at the best friend level. Most people in these relationships want to remain good friends, even if one person leaves the workplace.
3. Friendly in the workplace. This relationship has some of the same qualities as the above, but is less likely to continue beyond work. There is also often less personal disclosure. In other words, it’s the co-worker—the kind of person you have lunch or coffee with.
4. Know the co-worker. This refers to someone you may see regularly at work, but your interactions with them are limited to exchanging smiles or brief greetings.
Benefits of friendship in the workplace
Friendships at work provide more innovation, feelings of psychological safety and compassion. When employers balance leadership and camaraderie with their employees, it encourages the vulnerability, adaptability and humility required in today’s business environments.
Elton Mayo, one of the founders of modern organizational theory, recognized that opportunities for social-emotional connections at work are essential for performance.
Simply sharing information with another person does not provide these opportunities though—an emotional exchange is required. An emotional exchange requires being open about one’s feelings and concerns, while an informational exchange does not.
Because of this emotional exchange, friendships at work can be difficult. They require a significant investment of time, as well as trust and disclosure, both of which can be intimidating for some.
What relationships are appropriate?
Making and keeping friends at work has become more important to people since the start of the pandemic. As remote and hybrid work becomes more prevalent, friendships in the workplace take on a key role in providing important social and emotional support.
The best friend relationship at work provides the most benefits because it provides the most opportunities for emotional exchange between colleagues. These benefits include increased happiness, productivity and motivation among workers.
But intimate relationships are difficult and exhausting to maintain, meaning that these types of relationships are often rarer compared to other types.
Close friendships and friendly workplace relationships are the most likely to provide these benefits without being too emotional or difficult to maintain. However, it is important to note that close friendships face the same challenges as having a best friend at work—namely, a higher risk of personal conflict that come to work.
Coworker acquaintances are a type of workplace relationship that do not offer any of the benefits that come from having friends at work. If you want to get the most out of the job, your best bet is to try and make friends.
Unfriendliness does not work
But what if you have a partner that you just can’t stand? Besides grinning and bearing their presence, you can choose to remove yourself. This may mean leaving the role or trying to distance yourself from that person without sacrificing your ability to perform.
While avoiding those you don’t like helps, it’s often difficult to do at work. Also, being unfriendly at work—whether it’s because it’s hard to make friends or because you’re avoiding someone—can make work less fun and enjoyable.
Employees who are less engaged find less meaning in their work and receive fewer opportunities for advancement. Unfriendliness can also lead to higher levels of loneliness and isolation, which can lead to making you sick.
A new perspective
If you decide to maintain a friendly relationship with a colleague you don’t like, there are some strategies you can use to maintain a productive working relationship with them. One of these strategies involves using positive reframing to change the way you think about and interpret your partner’s behavior.
Using metaphors to shift your perspective can be a helpful way to accomplish this. A particularly useful metaphor is to compare your partner to a book. When reading a book, even if it’s fun, there may be parts you don’t like and forget. However, you cannot dismiss the entire book.
Applying this metaphor to partners can help you emphasize the parts about a person you like while letting go of the less desirable parts. It’s important to recognize that no one is perfect—in or out of work.
While there will always be colleagues you don’t care about, it can be empowering to know that with some reframing, you can help create a better workplace for yourself and those around you.
Provided by The Conversation
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Citation: Should you be friends with your coworkers? Here’s what the research says (2023, July 18) retrieved on 18 July 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-07-friends-co-workers.html
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