At a time when we are pushing so hard to create boundaries between work and home, and we know that any job ad that reads “we’re like a family here” is a red flag, it’s easy to understand why someone may not feel the need to build meaningful relationships with their coworkers. While our jobs may be fulfilling to various degrees, the fact is that we go to work to get paid enough to support our families and lifestyles. Or, more bluntly, we’re not there to make friends. Be that as it may, if we show up to work every day with that attitude, we are missing out on creating some significant relationships.
Indeed, the lines between personal life and professional life can often become blurry, and to effectively leave work at the office, we have to make a conscious effort to separate the two. However, just because you shouldn’t have to answer your boss’ email request at 9 p.m. doesn’t mean you can’t respond to the hilarious meme your coworker texted to you at the same time. No, you shouldn’t expect to bring work home with you, but creating relationships with your coworkers that extend beyond the walls of your office building is not the same thing. Your coworkers can provide you with a unique kind of support that no one else can. So not only is it okay to build relationships with them, it’s encouraged.
Throughout your career, your coworkers will be vital to your success. Whether it’s because they lend an ear when you need to vent about a frustrating client or because they remain in your network after one (or both) of you have left the company, the coworkers you build genuine relationships with will have your back, and they’ll be among some of your biggest cheerleaders as you continue to grow in your career. In all honesty, everyone should be so lucky as to have at least one good coworker friend in their corner.
Why Build Relationships With Coworkers?
If you were to believe what Hollywood tells us, you’d think that in every workplace there are employees who pretend to be friends with their coworkers, only to turn around and stab them in the back later. As dramatic as the movies and TV make these situations seem, it is an unfortunate reality that you’re probably going to come across a bad apple who betrays your trust at some point in your career. But, just like in your personal life, you can’t shut yourself off from everyone just because you’re scared to get hurt. It is especially true with coworker relationships because when they’re built for the right reasons, they can be compelling and beneficial.
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First, having some coworker friends you can trust offers you a safe space to vent your frustrations on a bad day at work. You can blow off some steam with your partner or your friends outside of work, but your coworkers are the people who will get what you’re saying because they know the people involved and the gritty details that people outside of your workplace can’t understand. They can provide empathy where others can only offer sympathy. They can give helpful advice tailored to your specific situation, whereas others can only provide generalizations based on the information you provide them.
You can also count on your coworker friends to have your back when you need help at work. If you experience a death in the family and have to drop everything to be with your loved ones, a good coworker friend will be willing to cover for you at work, contact your clients, and do whatever they can to make things a little easier on you. They’ll also be willing to lend their expertise and insights when you need some help on a project, or they’ll show support at a meeting when you share a new idea that other people need time to accept.
We still need emotional support at work, and when you build relationships with your coworkers, you’re creating a support system that will pick you up when you need it.
In addition to being supportive on a more personal level, your coworkers can offer support on a professional level, too. They’ll be the first to advocate for you when you’re up for a promotion and push you when you’re not reaching your potential. Similarly, when you need a professional reference or recommendation in the future, your coworker friends will be more than happy to provide one on your behalf. Essentially, they’ll be willing to use their credibility to help further build yours.
Down the road, even after you’ve left your job or they’ve left theirs, your coworkers can still help you professionally. If they’re working for a new company you want to get into, they can tell you when jobs are opening up and may even offer to give you an employee referral. As they continue to grow in their roles, they can share their new knowledge with you, which will only help advance your career all the more.
When you build relationships with your coworkers, the professional benefits can last far beyond when the two of you are working side-by-side. They have the potential to help open up more opportunities for you in the future, and chances are high they’ll be more than happy to do it because they support you and your career. Plus, they’ll continue to do so years into the future.
Tips for Relationship Building at Work
Now that you know why to build relationships with your coworkers, you may be wondering how to do it. As we get older, it becomes challenging to make friends. When you’re trying to make friends at work, there are also added layers that make it all the more complex like if you’re part of a virtual team, if your company’s culture isn’t collaborative, or if it’s just generally challenging for you to put yourself out there and connect with other people. Unfortunately, there aren’t any guaranteed ways to make friends at work, but here are some strategies that may help:
- Join a committee or group for something you care about. It will get you in the same room with people with similar interests
- Eat lunch in the break room once or twice a week, and talk to the other people in there (the easiest way to start up a conversation is simply by asking people about themselves)
- When there are group events, like employee picnics or volunteer days, attend when you can
- Create channels on Slack based on interests, so you can connect with your coworkers on a topic you enjoy (make sure to get approval before doing this, though)
- While venting with coworkers can be helpful, don’t let all of your interactions be negative
- Offer to help in some way, whether it’s on a work project or just an act of kindness like carrying someone’s bags to their car if they’re on crutches
- When someone asks you about yourself, give an honest answer that can open up further conversation
- If you know it’s someone’s birthday, work anniversary, or another big day, go out of your way to acknowledge it
Again, making friends can be hard (primarily if you work for a virtual team), so don’t stress out or push too hard if you’re not connecting with your coworkers right away. Give people the space they need to warm up to you. Also, keep in mind that the idea here isn’t to become the most popular social butterfly in the company, it’s to create a handful of meaningful coworker relationships, and those need some time to grow.
Be a Good Coworker to Others
It’s not enough to find good coworker friends who support you. You also need to remember to keep and maintain the connections as well. As with all relationships, the benefits go both ways, meaning you have to be willing to help your coworkers out when they’re in a pinch, advocate for them if they’re up for a promotion (even if you’re feeling a little jealous), and lend an ear when they’re having a tough day. It’s how you’ll end up building lasting relationships with your coworkers, and you (and your career) will be better for it.
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