Friday, July 19, 2024

How to make friends at work: Employees guide

Whether you’ve joined a new workplace or have new colleagues, making friends at work isn’t straightforward for everyone.

Some managers discourage work friendships, fearing that intimacy between employers will undermine professional boundaries and reduce their workers’ productivity.

But even in the workplace, people are social creatures. New research shows that making friends at work is essential for employees’ social health and in fact improves their productivity, engagement, and job satisfaction. 

57 percent of employees enjoy their work more with a best friend in the workplace, while 22 percent feel more productive when working with friends.

This is especially true after the pandemic.

Having worked in isolation during COVID, many employees want to feel connected when they start a new job. Onsite work is also starting to replace remote and hybrid positions in a trend towards more in-person collaboration. This means that knowing how to make friends at work is becoming more critical for employees.

Remote and hybrid employees work alone for longer periods and are often unable to work or socialize with their onsite co-workers face-to-face.

Unfortunately, making friends can be particularly challenging for these workers due to this isolation. Both remote and on-site employees may also struggle to fit into the existing friendship groups established teams.

But no matter where you work, relationship building can be easy if you are willing to make an effort to interact with and get to know your co-workers. Here are a few pointers to help you forge close workplace friendships.

Personalize your space

A plain workspace holds no personality.

A simple way to introduce yourself to co-workers is to decorate your workspace with images that share your personal life.

Family photos, your favorite flowers, posters, and souvenirs from important moments in your life can be great conversation starters in the workplace. More importantly, they can help you find common ground with your co-workers. 

Decorating your workspace with personal items is also effective if you are shy, as colleagues with similar interests will be more inclined to start friendly conversations with you.

If your job is remote or hybrid, video conferences are a great opportunity for you to showcase your interests and hobbies to your co-workers. Consider telling them about yourself with your video background. 

This could be an image of your favorite place or which shows a passion or pastime you enjoy. Images that communicate your interests can prompt friendly conversations with your co-workers online, which can eventually lead to meaningful work friendships.

Open Up About Yourself

Research shows that co-workers become particularly close friends by sharing stories about their work and personal lives.

This means showing an interest in your colleagues’ experiences and sharing some of your own. Opening up like this fosters relationship building as it demonstrates sensitivity to other people’s thoughts and feelings while allowing them to relate to you.

But it is critical to avoid rushing into self-disclosure. Divulging overly intimate details too soon or asking a colleague you have just met personal questions will likely make them uncomfortable. 

It is also vital to ensure that you can completely trust your co-workers before you confide in them sensitive personal information. Untrustworthy colleagues may use it to discredit you to your boss and other team members.

For this reason, you should start with small talk and greeting colleagues with “Hi,” and “How are you?” and shift to sharing increasingly personal and sensitive information as the relationship develops.

To show vulnerability safely, start by exchanging personal interests such as hobbies, favorite sports or TV shows to build rapport with your colleagues. Then, as your friendships become closer, gradually introduce more sensitive personal information.

Stay Positive

Positive energy is contagious.

Having a positive attitude at work is essential for creating rapport with your co-workers. When you think positive thoughts and present yourself with an upbeat demeanor, the energy you exude will make your colleagues want to spend time with you.

Warm body language, like smiling and nodding, demonstrates interest and enjoyment in your interaction with co-workers. Celebrating small accomplishments at work and sharing positive information about your personal life will also encourage them to talk about their lives outside work.

For this reason, you should keep your casual conversations positive while you are getting to know your colleagues and only divulge serious personal issues with close work friends.

Spend Coffee and Lunch Breaks Together

Enjoying coffee and lunch breaks with your co-workers is an easy team-building activity and an effective way to make new friends. While chatting with the team over a break, you can meet employees in other departments and learn more about their backgrounds outside the office. 

Research shows that colleagues who share information about themselves develop a team-building culture that improves employee engagement and work satisfaction.

If you work in the office, arrange to eat lunch with your team in the onsite cafeteria or break room or consider inviting them to lunch at a nearby cafe or restaurant. Remote workers can arrange informal meetings or “virtual coffees,”  drinking coffee together over Slack, Teams, Skype or  Zoom video calls. 

You can also organize a virtual team meeting or “happy hour” with a larger group of co-workers if you want to be acquainted with everyone or prefer group settings.

These virtual meetings are quickly gaining popularity because they break up a stressful workday to provide employees with some much-needed R&R.

They are also an opportunity for workers to share their interests and experience, building relationships and a team-building culture.

However, it can be difficult for employees to switch from formal work discussions to social chat. If you have regular work meeting with colleagues that you meet for coffee, reserve separate time slots for virtual coffees and consider holding them outside their work hours to allow your co-workers to switch off from the day mentally.

Plan Personal Activites

Interest Groups

It’s well understood that common interests bring people closer together and lead to stronger friendships. To learn more about your teammates’ hobbies and attract like-minded colleagues, consider organizing a particular interest group to meet during breaks or outside of work hours.
For example, you might start a book club if you have a keen interest in literature. For fitness and outdoor enthusiasts, hiking groups and walking meetings are great options for colleagues who live locally or work together in the office.
These groups are particularly helpful if you work remotely, since you can connect with company contacts in different locations using video conferencing tools.
To organize interest groups, host a meeting on Skype or Zoom and invite your co-workers via email or social media. You can also organize larger groups and connect with team members in different departments of your company this way.
Interest groups also foster a team-building culture of supportive relationships, especially when combined with virtual coffees and happy hours. Spending this personal time with your co-workers will also improve your interactions with them in the workplace and, ultimately, your team’s performance.

Networking Events

While video conferencing platforms and social media are useful tools for connecting with people, some research shows that face-to-face interactions lead to greater happiness and stronger work relationships.

Many find the close proximity of in-person relationships more intimate and believe that meeting face-to-face allows for a wider selection of social activities.

Employers are also recognizing that social activities encourage  relationship building and a supportive work environment.

Many employers now organize networking  activities for staff as part of employee wellness programs.

If you want to develop friendships at a new job, taking advantage of these opportunities is important as it shows an interest in the team and company culture. Networking events are also an opportunity to meet and get to know various staff from different departments, expanding your career and personal contacts.

Check with your employer if any staff networking events have been scheduled in the near future, and do your best to attend them, even if you find them boring. If no staff activities have been scheduled, consider organizing your own activity. 

You might invite your team to a group lunch or dinner at a local restaurant or meet your co-workers for coffee after work.

Avoid Inappropriate Conversations

While sharing personal views and interests will certainly help you make friends with your team, remember to maintain professionalism by sticking to work-friendly topics. 
Casual conversations about hobbies, sports, music and television are safe ice-breakers that can quickly help you find common ground with your colleagues. 
Highly controversial topics, such as political and religious views tend to cause heated disagreement, which can antagonize colleagues and prevent them from collaborating effectively. 
Bad-mouthing the company in any way also indicates you have a negative attitude, which may antagonize your colleagues. If you have any complaints, respectfully take them up with your boss and follow your workplace’s procedures for making them.  

Don’t Gossip

Gossip can bring people with similar views closer and is a powerful ice-breaker.
It is also prevalent in the workplace as it breaks up long workdays with entertainment and because many workers like to seem in-the-know to impress their colleagues.  
But gossiping about your co-workers also affects them and there is a fine line between friendly banter that builds camaraderie and harmful gossip that erodes trust. 
Spreading rumors about other staff is a big no-no if you wish to make friends and keep your job, since this form of gossip can damage workplace relationships built on trust and cooperation. 
Employees subject to rumors may feel estranged and violated, affecting their wellbeing and productivity. This has a ripple effect on the entire team’s performance.

How would you feel knowing your colleagues were talking about you behind your back?

This can escalate rather quickly. 

If your gossip offends someone or it’s shared with a co-worker you cannot completely trust, it can be used against you by telling other team members or even your supervisor. This can lead to disciplinary action and spoil any chance of meaningfully connecting with your co-workers.

If your co-workers start to discuss someone else’s personal affairs with you, gently direct the conversation to a work-safe topic and never repeat any information you have no business knowing. 

Making friends at work can transform your personal and working life provided your interactions are respectful and professional. By showing positivity and sharing your likes, interests, and stories with co-workers, you will improve your existing relationships and make new close friends. 

With a positive social network, you will enjoy greater job satisfaction and dramatically improve both your own and the team’s performance.

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Tim Ward

Tim Ward

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