Friendship at Work

While the relationship between employees and managers has been examined over and over, work friendships often go unnoticed or overlooked.

And yet, as anyone who’s ever had a “work wife” (or husband!) knows, friendships at work not only make the time we spend at work more pleasurable, but they can also build our resilience. And it’s not just individuals who benefit, employers should note that according to Gallup, whether a person has friends at work is one of the best predictors of whether they will stay in their current job.

While working remotely may have reminded many of us of the value of work friendships – who hasn’t lamented the loss of those “water cooler moments” – it’s also diminished our time to nurture them. Back-to-back virtual meetings have swallowed up the time office-based workers would normally spend having casual chats between desk and meeting room, or while making cups of coffee.

So, what can we – as colleagues, leaders and employers – do to give friendship the focus it deserves? Here are 5 tips for rekindling friendships at work.

1. Invest time – friendships take time and opportunity. Carve time into your working day to connect with colleagues you care about, ask about how their day is going and hear their news. People teams should ensure that new joiners have adequate time and opportunity to meet a breadth of new people so they can start forming friendships too.

2. Create shared experiences – sharing experiences and challenges strengthens relationships. Volunteering to help others or work on cross-functional projects is a great way to build new friendships and rekindle existing ones.

3. Ban back-to-back meetings – we can’t make time for friendship if we’re trapped behind a screen. Initiatives like “take 10” where meeting organisers are encouraged to shave 10 minutes off every 60-minute meeting slot can free up time in the day for other things. Or why not dedicate some time at the beginning or end of a meeting for free discussion?

4. Walk and talk – ask a friend to share some downtime with you by going on a virtual walk, or sharing a virtual coffee to talk about how your day is going.

5. Connect in person – we’ve talked before about scheduling office days around the type of work to be done – but it’s important to incorporate people, too. Try coordinating with friends to be in the office at the same time and make space in your day for chats over lunch or coffee.

As personal interactions become more and more intentional, there has never been a greater need for leaders to encourage and support friendships between people at work. As ever, it’s role modelling that has the deepest impact. Leaders must demonstrate the value they place on friendship by taking time to connect with their friends – and ensuring others have the time and space to do so, too. Whether it’s banning back-to-back meetings, providing budget for people to take lunch together or building social spaces and free periods into the office and working day – do whatever you need to do to make that space.

For more insight into friendship at work, check out Lynda Gratton’s recent Financial Times article, Cut the Meetings, Make More Friends.