Do you have friends at work? Do work friendships matter?

In a time of the “Great Resignation,” a phenomenon that is having a particular impact on healthcare industry, having friends at work can make your work life easier. Work friends see you more than almost anyone else–sometimes even more than your family. And while those familiar faces are often a comfort, work friendships can sometimes turn into a problem.

Research suggests that having at least one friend at work–someone you can rely on and talk to about somewhat personal matters–can help make you more satisfied with your employment, reduce stress, and can sometimes act as motivation. And while things like small talk at work can irritate some people (and even cause real distractions), even those small connections can be enough of a mood boost to make it worthwhile. Having people you consider friends on your team can also help your team perform better and accomplish more.

The theory makes sense. When you are happy to see the people you work with and feel connected to them and to their lives, you come to work with a more positivity. Teams that have a foundation in friendship will work hard to lift the work of the entire team. They are also more attuned to each other–whether that is a work style or knowing when someone isn’t in a good mood–and can help each other.

But are work friendships the same as your non-work friendships? Sort of. Work friendships often build into lifelong friendships and continue long after job and career changes. But like any friendship, there are always challenges–and having that friction or emotional stress at work can become a problem.

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Go for Shared Interests

Does a work friend like to exercise at lunch or run fun 5Ks? Do you have a coworker who is a home pasta-making pro or who takes in weekend concerts? Bonding over shared interests is an excellent way to connect with work friends. You’ll have plenty to talk about, can meet up for fun get togethers, and you still have a common work interest.

Always Assess

What kind of image does your work friend project outside of work? Are they sometimes in trouble with higher ups? Your parents were right–you’ll be seen in the same light as the people you hang out with. So if they have values or morals that don’t match your own, you’ll want to know that.

Be Professional

Recognize that when you’re first getting to know someone, you need to remain friendly, but professional. Your career is based on your place of work–and the people in it. The last thing you want to do is divulge the  latest family drama or your recent health crisis to someone at work and find out they shared your story with others. It’s okay to hold back even if others are sharing things with you. Protect yourself and your story.

Know Your Boundaries

It helps to know what you want to share with your work friends so having boundaries in place, and sticking to them, is good practice. And just because you choose to share your frustration with losing weight but not your frustration with your partner, doesn’t mean you aren’t coming to work as your whole self. It just means you are keeping some of your story private.

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Protect Your Team

No matter how close you are to someone at work, skip the gossip mill. Talking about others, even with someone you trust, can land you in hot water professionally. Gossiping about your colleagues can also cast a shadow on how others see you; remember today’s peer could be your boss next year. Your goal is to build your team up and gossip is a barrier to that goal.

Work friendships are important and can make your daily job more enjoyable and more productive. But being careful about how you treat work friendships is important because, like it or not, they can have a lasting impact on your career.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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