Written by: Dr Lynda Ince-Greenaway, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
If I think back to my school days, I recall that there were different types of friendships among my compatriots, some were healthy and others were far from healthy. As we mature and move into adulthood the need for friends does not diminish but increases as we see the need to connect with others on a number of levels. Similar to school days, we spend the majority of time in the workplace interacting with colleagues.
The Harvard School of Business found that the average person spends 81,396 hours at work. Work environments can be toxic but they can also provide a route of escape for those who rely on others to give them a sense of belonging. Feeling a sense of well-being and connection when we are away from close family and friends is essential. Work may be the only outlet that some people have to interrelate and communicate with other human beings. Indeed, creating positive relationships leads to higher levels of performance and promotes psychological wellness. Healthy friendships provide an avenue for emotional expression. The business press stated that
“Individuals may have several different types of relationships with different people within their organization and social network. When such ties are successful, they are associated with positive outcomes such as better performance, greater work satisfaction, and greater organizational commitment.”
In this article, I will suggest six ways in which you can develop healthy friendships in the workplace.
1. Friendships lead to happiness
There are different types of friendships that employees develop with each other. Each type of friendship has a role to play in how happy we feel at work and how we cope with the stress that arises out of working in an organisation. We do not have the opportunity to choose who we work with, but if we can learn how to get along with others it makes life easier and leads to more fulfilment. Informal friendships can and do extend beyond the workplace where colleagues spend free time together engaging in activities that are unrelated to their work life. People may develop common interests and choose to spend more time with each other. It provokes a bond and a feeling of comradery. This type of relationship is healthy because it is beneficial to one’s overall health and well-being.
Friendship provides an outlet to enjoy group activities and where possible to relate to colleagues on a personal level. I had a friend who left the organisation where I was working but we became good friends often meeting to go to the theatre, art galleries and other places of interest. Work friendships build team spirit and naturally give a sense of belonging. Businesses can support this type of friendship by offering resources to help staff develop connections with each other. Team Aways Days, coffee mornings, parties, and games of every description support healthy friendships and optimum health in the workplace. It is well known from research that informal friendships at work are an essential part of organisational life because employees take action to create their own brand of success. Informal friendships at work also reduce negative relationships and build retention which is good news for employers. When people are happy at work their work output increases exponentially, and the quality of work will also increase simply because an employee knows they will have someone they can rely on, share ideas with or even help with moments of self-doubt when they are feeling under the weather.
2. Work on supportive relationships
It is commonly known that people rely on different forms of support. When colleagues rely on each other for support they are able to share personal information and their frustration in an environment where it belongs rather than taking it home. This type of friendship is not only concerned with work-related issues but also with private issues. It may be that a member of staff is going through a difficult time at home and needs to talk to someone they can rely on for encouragement. A trusting relationship and a bond are developed that gives a sense of security and the feeling of being understood particularly during times of stress. In her research, Emma Kenny found that the main value of supportive friendships is how they give emotional and practical support. The fact that there is someone who can lend a listening ear is in and of itself of immense benefit. This type of friendship helps with problem-solving and it releases the tension of feeling alone and that there is no one who understands you or the problem you are facing. Developing a friendship that relies on support is healthy because it allows a person to choose whom they want to talk to about personal matters. It may not always be appropriate to speak to a manager, but a friend in the workplace could be of great benefit when it comes to overcoming hurdles. However, this type of relationship requires trust to be built and confidentiality to be maintained. On the other hand, work-related friendships may blur the boundaries and move into unsafe territory, therefore care must be taken to explore who you can talk to, who you can share your problems with and who can be trusted to keep your information safe. Supportive people must be sensitive to another person’s needs. Work-related friendship support has many dimensions and can exist anywhere as long as both parties set out the parameters and maintain them.
3. Seeing work friends as different
The third type of friendship that often exists in the workplace is where colleagues relate to each other, but they do not have the desire or need for social contact outside of working hours. They are happy and contented to work alongside others, but they make a distinction between work friendships and other types of friendships. They do not feel the need to become overly involved with their colleagues. They may see work relationships as distinctly different from other types of relationships. This is healthy particularly when people have an existing and strong network of family and friends. They may not be seeking to develop other friendships because they know that in other contexts, they can find the friendship they most need. All organisations need staff to meet targets and deadlines, therefore keeping friendships under control can help those who are less focused to reduce distractions. The downside is that colleagues may interpret the lack of involvement as aloof. Nevertheless, we all have the right to choose who we are friendly with and how we transact relationships at work. However, it is important to remember that friendships at work encourage communication and relationship building. My sister told me a story of a colleague who came into work and switched on her computer without saying good morning. Throughout the day she did not communicate with others or share in any conversations that were taking place around her. Her silence led to tension and ill-feeling among her colleagues. Although you may not want to build close friendships at work, it is important to remember that your mental health will be affected if you are unwilling to communicate, participate and share in what is happening around you. The benefits of developing positive and meaningful relationships require collaboration and working together in the spirit of job satisfaction.
4. Support your emotional and psychological wellbeing
The opposite of not participating in conversations is when a team member is pleasant, saying Hello and How are you? They are not averse to passing the time of day, but for a variety of reasons a true friendship does not develop. This is primarily because they do not perceive friendships at work to be valuable, or they may not feel the need to engage in a relationship that requires time, effort and commitment. Being pleasant without developing a friendship is not necessarily negative, but it can become unhealthy because this attitude does not support an individual’s well-being. A friendship is only healthy if it supports psychological and emotional well-being. From one end of the continuum to the other it is important to develop friendships that are conducive to manoeuvring the work environment with relative ease. While being pleasant is desirable it does not lead to getting to know people and appreciating them for who they are. Additionally, it does not lead to optimum health because there is no investment. In our current environment where the Pandemic has created reliance on new ways of communicating, it has had an impact on how people relate to each other. When we were first in lockdown and could not meet people face to face many employees lost contact with their colleagues. Relying on text and emails is not the same as seeing a person and having a face-to-face conversation with them. The relevance of friendship at work became evident as we emerged from lockdown and began to realise the devastating impact isolation had on people’s mental health. Emotional and psychological well-being in the workplace is an important aspect of your health, therefore shift from being pleasant to cultivating positive relationships wherever possible.
5. Become a buddy
There is nothing worse than not having a friend in the workplace. I recall that when I was a lecturer, a buddy system was operationalised to help new students settle in. It meant bringing the second and first-year students together so that those who knew the ropes would befriend those who were struggling and feeling vulnerable. Becoming a buddy helps new staff to integrate and get to know the system especially what is acceptable and unacceptable. It will help them to get to know policies and procedures and reduce the pressure that is commonly associated with relating to people in a strange situation. Becoming a buddy is also supportive as new members of staff become familiar with conventions that are not necessarily voiced or spoken about in an open forum. Friendships that are developed at an early stage can be effective since they can last well beyond the early stages of entering an organisation. Buddies can give positive advice and an induction that is worth its weight in gold. Whether people get on or not depends on personalities, likes and dislikes, expectations, and the quality and frequency of support that is given, but at least a buddy system gives initial support and an introduction to an unfamiliar environment.
6. Build rapport
Friendships develop easier if you know how to build rapport which is how to develop a meaningful connection and trusting relationship with others. When I was training to become a social worker over thirty years ago, one of the first soft skills I learned was how to build rapport with clients, it is a way of breaking down barriers. We build rapport with people on an everyday basis without realising it. For example, recently, I was standing at the counter in the doctor’s surgery and the receptionist asked the lady standing next to me for her date of birth. As I heard the date, I instantly gesticulated and made eye contact to show her that I was born on the same day. I walked out of the surgery and was sitting in my car. The lady walked out behind me and was heading to her car, but she stopped and walked over to me. We spent ten minutes talking about a host of things that created common ground between us. We had instantaneously established rapport, but not a deep friendship. In the workplace friendships begin as people find common ground, they explore interests and common themes that connect them to each other. Knowing how to build rapport is the first stage of relationship building. When there is rapport between team members it bodes well for team working and sharing tasks. It can improve outcomes as people work together helping each other to feel positive about their working day and the people they are working with. Building rapport begins with simple conversations and graduates to friendships where people begin to trust each other and eventually promotes longevity and stability. In some instances, as relationships mature people feel a sense of safety and belonging to a group. A manager or supervisor who has developed rapport with staff can depend on them to be loyal and loyalty in turn can lead to long-lasting, sustained and productive relationships.
When all is said and done, how do you create friendships at work? First, it is important to be happy at work, life is what you make it so go out of your way to be friendly. Second, remember that friendships provide a vanguard of support and at the same time improve your productivity, problem-solving, creativity and social skills. Third, remember that having work friends improves communication skills as you learn how to listen and how to be compassionate. Fourth friendships improve your emotional and psychological well-being since friends can talk about their experiences, their worries and concerns. Fifth, this is why being a buddy can help another person to settle into an unfamiliar environment relatively quickly. Sixth, try to build rapport with others through meaningful connections and the power of developing healthy relationships.
Dr Lynda Ince-Greenaway, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Dr Lynda Ince-Greenaway began her career in 1982 when she qualified as a social worker. After making child-care her specialism, she became a team leader and a manager. She has worked for forty years in the public and private social care sectors making a significant contribution to the development and learning of others. In her role as a manager, she developed leadership skills which she has used to teach and influence others. She became an educationalist working as a lecturer for many years. As a life coach, keynote speaker and author Dr Ince-Greenaway is known for her enthusiasm and passion concerning such issues as leadership, social justice, social inclusion, empowerment, personal development as well as the development of others.