In most work environments, you’re bound to befriend the people you work with. And since these friends become the friends you see the most during the week, experts say there are things to think about before considering yourself close.
Shasta Nelson, a San Francisco-based author and friendship expert, says there are plenty of documented benefits of being friends with your co-workers.
“We certainly feel happier going to work,” she tells Global News. She adds studies have shown people were less likely to call sick or put up with a job they didn’t like, because of the people they worked with.
“We feel more engaged, we brainstorm more, we’re likely to give our opinion more — I would say it is huge.”
Friendship expert Irene S. Levine, a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine, says these friendships, however, need to unfold slowly.
“Two people need to begin to slowly build trust with one another,” she tells Global News. “Friendly overtures can take many forms: helping with a project, asking to join you for a lunch, asking to have a drink after work.”
Friendships can benefit our health
Miriam Kirmayer, a therapist and friendship expert, says connecting with people at work can also impact our mood, stress levels and 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 tells Global News. “What’s more, having friends at work can enhance the feeling that you’re working towards a common goal or contributing to something bigger than yourself, which can be incredibly motivating and rewarding.”
She adds co-workers also provide practical support, especially if you’ve missed meetings or need someone to be a mentor figure.
“It’s also worth noting that for many adults, work is one of the only (if not the only) contexts in which they are able to meet new people, socialize, and ideally make new friends,” she says.
What are the downfalls?
Nelson adds there really is no hard and fast rule when it comes to developing friendships with co-workers, but at the end of the day, you need to realize you just can’t avoid them like other friends.
“People can just drift apart, but at work, we have to learn how to work together,” she says.
Kirmayer says friendships between co-workers can also lead to others questioning the group or pair’s productivity. However, she says this shouldn’t stop you from making friends at work.
“While it’s true that friendships take time and energy to develop and maintain, and that work assignments might not always be the number one priority when we have friends at work, much of the recent research coming out supports that investing in workplace friendships actually promotes productivity in the long run.”
She adds one thing many people don’t consider is how the friendship can impact our workload.
“Being friends with colleagues can 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.”
What about the boss?
Navigating friendships between employees and bosses should be approached with caution, Levine says.
“There are no absolutes when it comes to befriending managers or bosses, but these friendships require more caution because if they go awry, they can jeopardize your employment.”
While Kirmayer says it can also impact your work. “It can also be difficult to be fully yourself when you are caught up in managing how you are coming across,” she says.
“On the flip side, being friends with a manager or boss can lead to boundaries being blurred which can make it more difficult to receive the kind of mentorship and feedback that’s needed to grow and thrive.”
But experts agree while it’s important to consider all aspects of developing friendships in the workplace, this also means being a good friend in return.
Nelson says being a good friend means having consistent interaction, making sure your friends are happy and revealing your true self to them eventually.
“It goes back to the idea of being friendly to everybody, but not necessarily friends with everybody.”