Work wife = friend for life.
The bond between work friends is a magical thing. You know you’ve got a special relationship on your hands when you already spend most of your time with your work crew—thanks to all the overtime you do, obviously—and you still want to see them on Friday nights, weekends, and even over the holidays.
Cultivating strong work friendships has many benefits for our health and happiness; it’s even been reported that having a work BFF can bring you the same happiness levels as a $100,000 pay rise. (Friend or the money? Tough choice…)
According to Janine Garner, an entrepreneur and the author of It’s Who You Know: How a Network of 12 Key People Can Fast-Track Your Success, technology has changed the way we relate to our colleagues, especially when compared to older generations. “We get the balance of our network wrong when we choose to keep work and home totally separate from one another, convinced that this is what work-life balance is all about,” she told ELLE Australia. “This may have worked when we lived in the world of 9 to 5, when we switched off at the end of the day to head home and live our isolated family life, but things have changed dramatically since technology infiltrated our lives.”
And if Garner’s description of how work friends impact your life doesn’t make you hang around for drinks at the end of the week, we don’t know what will: “Building strong friendships at work is all about nurturing relationships that essentially become your own personal board of advisors who will support you through the good times and the not so good times, your source of insight and intelligence because we are fundamentally smarter together, and your personal marketing machine who help you to create momentum because they truly believe in you.”
As you move up in your career and jump between companies, you will meet new people who you’ll add to your “personal board of advisors.” But there’s a particular group of people you work with who you will probably develop the deepest bonds with: the friends you make at your first proper job.
This is no coincidence: landing your first job is a big deal. It’s a whole new world. Often there’s more involved than just getting the job. These include (but are not limited to):
— Moving interstate or to another country, so you actually have to start making new friends from scratch. (You may even move in with colleagues.)
— Working with people who have similar levels of experience to you.
— Working with and meeting people who are around the same age as you.
— Meeting people with the same interests as you, whether it’s fashion, accounting or teaching.
And this can often expand to:
— Talking about things that happen at work that your other friends wouldn’t understand, or would need more context for.
— Getting coffee and lunch together.
— Talking about your office crushes.
— Approving each other’s online shopping orders.
“When we start working in a new job or role we mix mainly with co-workers in our department or those at a similar seniority level as us. It’s common to find ourselves gravitating towards the people we see regularly, spend most time with or have most contact with,” Garner explains. “We often find it easier to connect and build friendships with people who have the same knowledge, background or work focus as us. At the start of our careers we tend to be drawn to clusters of ‘sameness’ and the relationships develop as a result of similar stages in career, experience or life stage. These early friendships and shared life experiences can last for a long time, particularly if you stay in the same company, industry, city or even country. For some there is no doubt that these early friendships become some of their strongest in adult life.”
Roxy Jacenko, the director of Sweaty Betty PR and The Ministry of Talent, has seen this happen between women at her companies; many start with her when you’re young, hungry and fresh in the industry. “I think it’s such a formative time in our careers, we are all new and keen to learn, and these bonds are unique—all trying to navigate a new career and juggle being an adult,” she told ELLE.
The strong bonds they’ve created drive them to succeed personally and professionally: “I’m really fortunate to have such a great team here who I would consider as much colleagues as friends,” Jacenko continued. “The team here at Sweaty Betty do work hard (I guess that is how we get our clients results!), and it comes down to all having strong work ethic and respect for each other—similar to that of good friendships. Whilst we all work on different accounts and clients, the team collaborates on what can work, share ideas and learn off each other. We also spend an incredible amount of time together, many outside of 9-5, and put simply, if you don’t get along, working those long hours can be difficult!”
While this is a common experience—something I’ve definitely felt, and seen with my other friends—it doesn’t mean it’s the same for everyone. Whether you’re able to form deep bonds with work colleagues will depend on a number of factors, including how long you’re at a company for, and personality types in general. Also, there are people who prefer to keep their work lives and personal lives separate, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
“Many will move companies, cities or countries and have to start again,” says Garner. “For others they may reach a tipping point in their careers when they have to rethink themselves, their roles, their network and sometimes even their friendships. You need people who understand the path you are on, especially when it changes.” This can be particularly difficult for people in management positions, as things can get messy when you’re too involved in the personal lives of colleagues you’re managing.
For those who perhaps haven’t created meaningful relationships at work but would like to, Garner has a few tips. “Making friends doesn’t just happen,” she says, “you have to invest the time, energy and commitment. The good news is that friendships are closer than you think.”
Her keys for successful friendships in the workplace also apply to real life: things like being curious, so you ask people questions and take a genuine interest in them; being memorable, which means “having the courage to own what is unique about you, quirks and all”; and becoming an action taker, which means following through with what you’ve said you’re going to do. “When you have spent time with someone, engaging in conversation, exchanging value, then you must make sure your words align with you actions,” Garner explains. “Be brave and go for it. If you don’t reach out and try you will never create the opportunity for new friendships to form.”