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  • Writer's pictureKristen Herring-Asleson

Friends at Work?

When one leaves a job, they learn a lot about the coworkers who had become “work friends.”

Often, in hindsight, they wonder if making friends at work was worth it in the long run. Were they really friends, or coworkers with whom you were close but would never hear from again once a job “break-up” occurs?

Sadly, I can share an example which has tugged at my heartstrings for a couple of years now. In the past, I worked with amazing men and women and genuinely considered them friends. Not only did we work the 8- to-5 grind side-by-side, but our group also went on trips, retreats, family gatherings, picnics and numerous other events together.

After taking the leap to open The Granary, many of them visited, popped in to say hi and to have coffee, wine or a smoothie. As time went on, the visits became fewer, but emails or phone calls were on a regular cadence.

Fast forward another 1 1/2 years to when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Cards, letters, emails and phone calls were received from people I hadn’t talked to in years and some I did not even know. What shocked and saddened me was that of the group I had called my work friends, only four of the 12 reached out to me. So, the saying is true -- when something tragic, negative or scary happens, “you find out who your friends are.”

Years ago, I hired someone straight out of a gas station, and after months of working together, our friendship flourished. She considered me a mentor, and I wanted her to be successful. After spending years in my office, it was time to move on and she took a leap to a corporate setting and picked up her life to move to Oklahoma. This afforded her the opportunity to make more friendships in a larger setting.

“Having friendships at work let me know I was in a safe space, and I could trust people I worked with," she told me. "I knew I could rely on them to be honest when needed. We found it difficult when those who did not work there did not understand what we were experiencing, so it was really nice to have people within our organization to talk with. If you are lucky, you can make lifelong friends out of coworkers."

A Future Workplace study revealed 1 in 10 people have no friends at work, and more than half have five or fewer friends. In addition, 70 percent of employees say friends at work is the most crucial element to a happy working life. Almost two-thirds said they would be more inclined to stay at their company longer if they had more friends.

This study revealed this is especially true for millennials, who consider their manager as their work parents and their coworkers their work family.

If you find yourself drawn to making friends at work, that is A-OK. Friendships at work actually increase productivity and employee morale. However, there are a few ground rules.

1. Manage your time and your boundaries wisely. One cannot sit around the water cooler with work friends shooting the breeze.

2. When it comes to work projects or team activities, include the “non-friends,” they are part of the team as well.

3. Don’t gossip! Avoid gossip entirely -- friends or no friends.

4. Treat everyone equally to avoid bias.

In general, balance coworkers, whether you’re close or not. The better the balance, the better your job is and the organization as well.

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