Should you be friends with your coworkers?


If you’re working full time, the people you see the most often are probably your coworkers. For many of us in fact, we see our coworkers more than some of our family members or longtime friends. When you spend so much time around a specific group of people, it is understandable that you would want to become friends with your coworkers. TV shows like The Office or Parks and Recreation put an image into our heads of our co-workers turning into lifelong friends, sometimes becoming as close as family members. However, turning your coworkers into friends isn’t as easy as it once was, and even when you try to, it’s not always a good idea.

Friendships: on the decline?

The number of people forming close relationships at work has been on the decline for decades. One researcher found that in 1985, fifty percent of workers said they had a close friendship at work. Almost twenty years later, in 2004, that number was down to thirty percent. This is a sharp decline, to the point where less than a third of us now say we have a friend at work. What led to this decline?

That same research suggested that this decrease is simply the result of culture in America. A part of American culture is to separate the professional from the personal, unlike other countries around the world. For example, in India, almost half of the respondents said they have gone on a vacation with a coworker, whereas the number in America is only six percent.

One reason Americans are refraining from becoming friends with their coworkers is competition. It is hard to become friends with someone when you are after the same job or promotion. While you may get along with this person, there is always something in between you – for instance, if they get a promotion, that could mean you won’t.

There is also a hierarchy in the workplace that is hard to navigate when forming friendships. Can you really be friends with your superior? How friendly should you become with people who work for you? If you are friends with someone, and they are promoted above you, should your relationship change? Close friendships can make business decisions more difficult, and is one reason they are avoided.

Lastly, another reason is the rise of job hopping. A study by LinkedIn found that for people graduating college between 1986 and 1990, they averaged about two job changes in their first ten years out of college. For Millennials, however, this number is 4. This means that younger people are changing jobs twice as much than their parents generation. When you move from job to job every few years, it can be hard to form a lasting relationship. Even if you end up staying at your job, those around you are likely career hopping as well and won’t be there for long.

Don’t avoid your coworkers

That being said, just because it can be difficult to form friendships at work doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. There are benefits to be had from workplace friendships, and even if they don’t last, the rewards can be worth it.

For starters, having a friend at work makes the day more enjoyable. Having someone you can talk to during the day is a great stress relief, and allows your mind to relax for a few moments throughout the day. It gives you someone to have lunch with, carpool with, or someone to vent to about your workload. In addition, you have someone to talk about work with. While your family and friends are willing to listen about your day, they will never really know what it is like to work there. Coworkers are going through the same thing as you, and can therefore relate better.

Friends can also assist you with your work. They can answer questions, give you advice, or help you out when your workload becomes too much. This is especially useful for new employees, who perhaps don’t know their way around the office yet, or don’t want to bother their boss with too many questions.

Talking with your coworkers can even have benefits that aren’t immediately apparent, such as an improvement of communication skills. Most of us don’t communicate the same way inside and outside of work, and chatting with your coworkers allows you to build up this skill. You’ll become more comfortable having professional conversations and be more relaxed around the office, so that when it comes time to talk or present to a colleague or superior, you’ll be better prepared.

Finally, one of the best long-term effects of forming a friendship at work are networking opportunities. As we said, people are frequently changing jobs these days, and the time may come when you are one of them. By forming connections with people at work, you’ll have a network you can reach out to when they have moved onto other positions. Networking is an essential tool for progressing through your career, and a great way to network is by keeping in touch with old coworkers. With everyone changing jobs, you never know who you may end up working with again in the future.

Striking a balance

There is a wide space between vacationing with your coworkers and ignoring them all together. We spend so much of our days at work that it’s natural to try and form friendships. No one wants to go all day without talking to anyone, sitting at your desk alone until 5 o’clock rolls around. On the other hand, it’s tough when you spend time forming a friendship, only to have it complicate work or end when the other person leaves for another job.

While you may not turn your coworker into a lifelong friend, this does not mean you can’t have a friendly working relationship with them. They key is to find a balance, so that you can cultivate your workplace connections, enjoy your workdays more, and still keep your professional and personal lives separate.

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