“I come here to make money, not friends.”
“Work is work and friends are friends.”
“Don’t mix business with pleasure.”
Sound harsh? Maybe — but it’s also the reality for a lot of people. Those are real responses to a Glassdoor Bowls™ thread that posed this simple question: “Are you in the ‘I don’t need friends at work’ or the ‘I need a work friend that I can be myself around’ camp?”
A scroll through the replies shows that it’s a topic people have pretty firm and passionate opinions about. On one hand, humans are inherently social, and research shows that having a work friend (or a few) offers some distinct benefits — it makes us happier, boosts our performance, and even makes us more likely to stay in our jobs.
But work friendships can also be complicated. Company politics can cloud your relationship, and it can be tough to draw appropriate boundaries between your work life and personal life. In many ways, it feels easier to keep your head down, do your work, and collect your paycheck without complicating your life with the interpersonal stuff.
Remote landscape, removed connections
There’s yet another element that’s made modern work relationships more difficult: hybrid and remote work. Knowing how to make friends at work was challenging enough when you shared an office — but it can feel nearly impossible when you and your colleagues are across the country or globe.
You don’t have the same opportunities to vent around the coffee pot, share store-bought birthday cake in the break room, or head out for a post-work happy hour. While flexible work arrangements certainly have their benefits, they can also leave workers grappling with loneliness:
- Loneliness is the second most commonly-cited struggle of remote work, ranking only behind staying home too often
- 70% of remote workers say they don’t feel like they’re able to socialize enough when working remotely
Pros and cons of friendships at work
There’s no denying that it’s harder to forge friendships in a remote or hybrid setting, leaving many people plagued with these questions: Is it even worth it? Is it really a big deal to have no friends at work?
As with anything, much of the answer depends on nuances like your organizational culture and your personal preferences.
While there are some real, research-backed benefits to work friendships that we mentioned earlier — better performance, greater satisfaction, and improved retention — that doesn’t necessarily mean that close bonds with colleagues are crucial to your success.
If you’re stuck somewhere in the middle, here are some pros and cons of work friendships to consider, based on real experiences and quotes pulled from that same Glassdoor bowls post.
Pros of work friends
- Camaraderie and connection: “It gets so lonely without a work friend. Especially when you have to make big decisions and don’t have anyone to talk it out with.”
- Enjoyable work: “You spend most of your waking hours working. Why wouldn’t you want to build relationships and make friends with your peers?”
- Bigger professional network: “We are facing a layoff where I am now and I have already had three people reach out to me to suggest that they have a place or know someone that I should talk to if I get the ax.”
Cons of work friends
- Conditional relationships: “I was open to making friends in my last role, but since leaving, the ‘friends’ I made turned their back on me.”
- Lack of authenticity: “Colleagues, not friends. My friends aren't paid to be cordial with me. And friendships at work have their limits.”
Building bonds: How to make friends at work
Other replies highlighted that there’s an important distinction between being friends and being friendly. As part of a team, you’re expected to be respectful and polite to all of your coworkers — regardless of whether you’re hoping to strike up a deeper bond or not.
And if you’re trying to figure out how to go beyond pleasantries and make actual friends at work, being a reliable and cordial coworker is a crucial first step. You need to fulfill your responsibilities, meet or exceed expectations, and carry your weight. After all, most people aren’t interested in striking up a friendship with the person who makes everybody else’s jobs harder.
Beyond the basics, there are a few other ways you can figure out how to make friends remotely, in person, or a mix of both.
Attend office events if they’re an option
If you’re somewhat near your company’s location, attend in-person meetings and events when you’re able to.
If you’ve gotten used to working remotely most of the time, you may have gotten into the habit of skipping in-person get-togethers (hey, we get it — it’s just easier to stay home). But there’s really no substituting the level of connection you get when you’re face-to-face.
Get social or join an interest group
Not being able to head to the office or a company event doesn’t mean you’re destined for a career of being nothing more than an email address or a headshot on Slack.
See if there are other ways that you can connect with other people across your organization. Volunteering for a committee, joining an employee resource group, or participating in a happy hour or another office gathering are all opportunities to show a little bit of yourself and meet other people in the process.
Schedule some one-on-one conversations
Maybe someone shared some photos from their recent trip to Amsterdam in a Slack channel and you’re planning your own visit soon. Or perhaps you want to learn more about what somebody on the sales team does.
Send a friendly note to ask if they’d like to join you for a coffee chat — whether it’s virtual or in-person. Connecting with people one-on-one can help you get to know each other more personally than you would in a group setting and maybe even strike up a friendship.
Work friendships without the fiascos
Work friendships offer some benefits, but not everybody’s cut out for close ties and more chummy relationships with their coworkers.
If you do decide to pursue a friendship with someone you work with, it’s smart to be thoughtful about how you forge that bond as well as how you maintain it. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Set and manage some healthy boundaries between your work and personal life. It’s in your best interests to avoid sharing anything with a work friend that you wouldn’t be comfortable having the whole office know about you — unless you have a really high degree of trust.
- Don’t let your work friend become your pacifier. Needing to vent about a brutal meeting or a bad day is understandable. However, griping to your colleague shouldn’t be something that keeps you from tackling important conversations with the people who can actually help you resolve real issues (like your manager).
- Be inclusive. Work friendships can quickly and easily transform into cliques, which can cause some unnecessary tension on your team. Even if you share a particularly close relationship with a specific team member, make a conscious effort to include other people in your conversations or outings.
At the end of the day, you won’t find “makes friends at work” listed in the requirements and qualifications section of any job description. But while having friends at work isn’t make or break, those friendships can help make your work life more productive and pleasant.