How to Help Cultivate Office Friendships

Workplace friendships directly impact workers’ overall satisfaction with their job and company. Here’s how to support friendships at your organization.

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Here's what you need to know:

  • To help cultivate office friendships, make friendship part of your company’s culture
  • Create opportunities for friendships to flourish
  • Try the buddy system with employees and offer support for friends at work as roles change

All kinds of things came out of the pandemic. A hard pivot to remote working. A renewed focus on employee well-being, especially mental health. One unexpected outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic has been an understanding of the importance of office friendships.

As Kate Morgan wrote on the BBC, “there was a time, in the not-so-distant past, when going out to lunch, day after day with the same group of colleagues was as mundane a part of daily life as the morning meeting or evening commute.” But after the pandemic separated us from our coworkers, we realized how valuable these office friendships are.

Sure, Morgan writes, there are some positives that have come from the separation. Office cliques that make others feel left out have been broken up. “But there are drawbacks to drifting away from your work buddies. Experts suggest that, while our work-based friendships are generally our most delicate ones, they’re also some of the most impactful on our overall happiness,” she says.

Recent data from Gallup supports Morgan’s position. Gallup has found that having a best friend at work has actually become more important since the pandemic. The social and emotional support that we get from work friends supports us through challenging times like the pandemic.

Office friendships offer workers more than just warm and fuzzy social perks. Workplace friendships directly impact workers’ overall satisfaction with their job and company. According to Gallup, employees with a best friend at work are significantly more likely to:

  • Engage customers and internal partners
  • Get more done in less time
  • Support a safe workplace with fewer accidents and reliability concerns
  • Innovate and share ideas
  • Have fun while at work

So, if you want your employees to enjoy these relationships that make challenging times more bearable and work overall more enjoyable, here’s how to help cultivate office friendships.

Make friendship part of your company’s culture

As Gallup explains, 1 company they’ve partnered with hosts a weekly company-wide meeting that features an employee’s work best friend. During these meetings, the employee talks about their work friendship. This can mean anything from how they benefit from their friend’s support to what an office friendship means to them. It’s a simple way to say to the workers at your company that office friendships matter and encourage them.

If you decide to host something similar at your company, you can consider asking questions about how each friendship started. That can help demystify the process for others who might be more introverted or new at the company.

If managers and others in leadership have their own office friendships, consider leading by example. Spend time with your office best friend. Take a coffee break with them. Go to happy hour with them after work. Talk about what you did over the weekend together. Invite others along.

Of course, it is critical that this doesn’t cross over into favoritism. But making it clear that everyone, even leaders, can benefit from the joys of workplace friendships will encourage your employees to follow suit.

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Create opportunities for friendships to flourish

There are several ways that leaders and HR can create opportunities for office friendships to take root. There are all of the social events like happy hours and company picnics that everyone is familiar with.

But outside of full-on social events, there are a number of smaller things you can do, too. Think about it as creating opportunities for people to get to know each other as individuals rather than just coworkers. Try starting a weekly team meeting with a social question like everyone’s favorite movie or pizza.

Especially if your team or company has an aversion to scheduled fun events, try going a more spontaneous route. Set up a team lunch or happy hour on a slow day.

The goal is to get a discussion going about a topic that’s easy for everyone to participate in, but that isn’t too personal. Not everyone is comfortable with sharing a ton about themselves at work. Discussing your favorite burger joint probably doesn’t rise to that level.

Especially if your team or company has an aversion to scheduled fun events, try going a more spontaneous route. Set up a team lunch or happy hour on a slow day. The surprise bit of time off will get everyone going into the event in a good mood.

You can also discuss employee friendships in mentorships and one-on-one meetings. Ask your employees if they feel supported at work and if they have work friendships. Ask if they feel like it’s been easy or hard to get to know people.

You can also use this time to understand who, exactly, is interested in office friendships. Not everyone cares to mix their social life with their work life. If you discover that you have someone on your team who feels that way, don’t force them.

But if you find people on your team who are antsy to make friends at work but are having a hard time doing so, you can help. As a manager, you can assign 2 people to a task to get them working together and spending more time together.

Then, once office friendships are formed, do what you can to support them. Assign the friends on your team to the same project so they can work together.

Try the buddy system with employees

When people start at a new job, they usually will have a manager and even a mentor. But a buddy is something totally different. This is a much more social role, designed to help your new hires get answers to the social and cultural questions that aren’t quite right for managers or mentors.

An assigned buddy is responsible for helping the new person get settled and find their way. Buddies can give new hires the lay of the social land at the office. If it turns out that a new hire is really into their dogs, their buddy would know if someone else in the office shares their passion.

Then the buddy can connect them, setting the scene for friendships to happen. Often the 2 buddies can end up becoming friends themselves.

Offer support for friends at work as roles change

One barrier to office friendships is changing roles. If 1 friend gets promoted to be another friend’s manager, things can get tricky fast. So, as you promote, ensure that your managers and leaders are ready to coach their employees through these situations.

As the Harvard Business Review explains, there are ways that people can manage being their friends’ boss. Here’s how:

Address the change directly with each person in the friendship

All relationships rely on communication. There’s a new power dynamic to the friendship and work and it should be addressed directly. This might mean negotiating or changing the dynamics of the friendship, at least in the office environment.

Each person in the friendship should talk openly and honestly with the others about how they feel about the change and how they think it should be handled moving forward.

Help the new manager become clear about their role and associated behaviors

It can be tempting to fall into the regular dynamics of an old friendship. But if that means gossiping about other employees with friend employees, issues can arise. It’s important that managers who are managing their friends understand this and can keep their behavior in check.

Managers have to keep their emotions in check and not let personal relationships get in the way of the work. This can be a challenge, but seasoned managers should be prepared to guide new managers through this process.

When it comes to cultivating office friendships, a lot comes down to being intentional. Of course, the work comes first. But with a focus on friendships, you’re sure to create opportunities for employees to thrive.

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