Navigating professional friendships is tricky. On one hand it would be nice to be friends with co-workers, but sometimes we have to ask ourselves, "how close is too close?" Can developing a friendship with people you know in the workplace sometimes be a bad thing?
If you work a more traditional 9-5 job (or something similar to that), when you really think about it, you spend most of your time at work, whether virtual or in person. Since many people spend lots of their time at work, it is very natural to start to get close to and develop some sort of relationship with the people you work with.
You know when companies put out commercials and they say our team is like family….. And you sit there like, hmmmm do they even really like each other? While it is true that when coworkers have good relationships with each other, it increases office morale and productivity, but what about when the relationships are forced? What if someone just wants to do their work and go home, why does that person then get labeled “not a team player”? If they are still producing great work, then why does it matter if they don’t want to be friends with their coworkers? In a recent debate on Linkedin that was sparked by a letter from Shopify CEO, Tobias Lütke, to his employees which referred to employees as a team and not a family, many have pondered over whether it’s even healthy for coworkers to think of each other as friends let alone family.
Being friends with your coworkers can be a slippery slope because don’t get me wrong, there are some genuinely cool coworkers that you can probably become good friends with, but there are also some coworkers who see you as a threat and are always trying to get ahead, even if that means throwing you under the bus the first opportunity they get. In your head, you all are friends, dare I say even a “work family'', but in their mind you are literally just someone they work with, nothing more and nothing less.
I have actually experienced firsthand a situation where I thought someone I worked with was my friend, but to them, I was merely just another coworker
When I started my first job I was so excited, and being more on the introverted side, the first couple of weeks I kept to myself, minded my business and simply did my work and went home. All that changed when I finally found my “work buddy”. I actually can’t even remember what we bonded over, but we bonded. Those awkward generic work conversations eventually evolved into more personal conversations between two friends. I felt a bit happier coming to work each day knowing that whenever I had any downtime I could message my work buddy and share some laughs to help the work day go by faster.
We carried on like this for months, my work buddy and I would get lunch together, message each other throughout the day and even spend breaks together. I even thought my work buddy could be my actual friend outside of the office, right?
I remember the morning I got into the office and per usual I stopped by to say good morning to my work buddy, but she wasn't there. I thought this was strange because she usually gets into the office before me and she would always tell me whenever she would be out for the day. At lunch I decided to message her to see where she wanted to get lunch and the first red flag was that I could no longer find our recent chat. The second red flag was when I tried to click on her name, it said that this user had been disconnected. I thought it was a glitch in the system, there was no way she would leave the company without at least telling me, or so I thought. Days passed, weeks passed, months passed and still no sign of my work buddy. Of course I thought something had happened to her and I was genuinely concerned. I decided to ask my manager if he knew anything about her abrupt disappearance, and apparently she had been planning to leave for weeks now and everyone knew that she was leaving...well everyone except for me that is. I then had to face the fact that she wasn't coming back, she left the company and didn't tell me. Before jumping to conclusions, I decided to shoot her a text congratulating her on her new job and wished her the best of luck in her new position.
Her response: thanks!
No explanation, no follow up, no nothing. Just thanks. To me, she was becoming my friend, but to her I was just merely someone she knew at work.
I hope my story didn't scare you away completely from being open to developing friendships with people you work with, because there are some people who have found life long friends at work! I must add that it is important to always be pleasant to those you work with, have an open mind and make sure friendships happen organically.
Here are some tips on navigating professional friendships:
Make sure it’s organic: Can't stress this enough!
Be nice and respectful to the people you work with and always try to have a good working relationship with them
Don’t feel the need to force relationships just because you want to be seen as a team player
Make sure the friendship progresses at a pace that you’re comfortable with
Don’t take it personally if you thought someone was your actually friend but you are just their work friend
Always be open to genuine friendships