This is why workplace friendships are so important – and how to form them

As more of us head back to the office, we are going to have to spend more time navigating interactions with our colleagues.

From catch-ups over the watercooler, to gossip sessions on our team chats, having positive interpersonal relationships in the workplace can make the day much more enjoyable.

But just how important is it to have friends at work? And do these friendships need to exist beyond the office?

We see our colleagues almost every day, more than we see our families, our partners, our actual friends. So, how can we build on these relationships and make them stronger and more supportive?

A new survey of 1,000 workers across the UK, conducted by Rovva, found that employees have an average of just four friends at work.

The data showed that men have more friends at work than women, with men having 4.5 friends on average, compared to four for women. 

But how key are work friends to enhancing the workplace?

Women are more likely to believe that work friendships are important (69%) than men (64%).

In fact, this is highlighted by the data, as women are more likely to stay in touch with work friends from previous jobs, staying friends with old colleagues for six and a half years on average. 

Meanwhile, men maintain their work friendships for slightly less time, averaging at five and a half years.

Three-quarters of those surveyed said that they hang out with their work friends, with men (73%) socialising slightly less than women (77%).

Starting a new job in the pandemic puts up barriers to making these friendships in the first place, with social distancing making it difficult to spend time with colleagues. 

Survey results highlighted this difficulty, as just under half of those questioned said they have made friends at their new workplace during the pandemic (45%). 

Men have found it slightly easier (47%) compared to women (42%).

Social distancing has played a huge part in the overhaul of office life, with new starters struggling to make friendships and old colleagues finding it difficult to keep the friendship exciting online.

Men are missing work activities slightly less than women, as the data showed that 43% of women are missing socialising over lunch the most, compared to just 26% of men.

Rovva also asked participants what they chat about with their coworkers. 

The results showed that women are more likely to confide in their work friends than men, about things such as work, family, health, friendships and relationships. Even sensitive topics such as mental health and finances.

In fact, women are 64% more likely to talk about relationships, and 54% more likely to talk about mental health.  

‘We know that friendships really enhance the workplace for many people,’ says on Abrahams from Rovva.

‘Work lunches, activity days out and even just a quick chat in the office kitchen can really boost our moods during the work day.’

How to make friends at work

If you find yourself in awkward situations in the office kitchen, or don’t quite know how to invite a colleague for an out-of-work hang out, we asked the experts for some tips.

‘We recommend making sure any new staff members are given time to have a proper chat with other colleagues when they first start,’ says Michaela Rodgers from Rovva. ‘This can be facilitated by setting up calls with team members of differing levels who can relay their experiences of the company and give insight into the company culture and working practices.’

A buddy system can also be a useful initiative to have in place.

‘Aligning the new starter with someone who’s job is to help them navigate their first few months within the business can be the difference between them staying or leaving,’ adds Michaela.

‘Let’s also not underestimate simply grabbing a brew and a biscuit, getting comfy and just getting to know your new starter. And be sure not to make it all about work.

‘If you’re personally struggling to speak to your colleagues and finding it difficult to make friends – give the following simple things a try:

  • Ask about them.
  • Find things you have in common.
  • Go to work events.
  • Ask for help.

‘As a manager, if you see a team member that is a bit distant from the group, why not ask them to organise the next social? It can be whatever they like doing the most and gives them an opportunity to approach their colleagues about fun, rather than unanswered emails. 

‘Of course, not everyone will get along, and it’s important to allow people the space they need to be as happy as possible at work.’

How to resolve workplace conflicts

If you’ve had a falling out at work, try the following techniques:

Deescalating

We don’t want the entire office blowing up with gossip over an afternoon. Not only is it distracting, but it can also be demotivating for others.

Instead, physically take the argument away from the office, and deescalate. Have the involved team members get some air, work from a cafe or even head home. This separation can really help provide breathing (and thinking) room to get ready for the next step.

Mediation

Being a good listener who can mediate between two disagreeing parties is crucial and will go a long way to resolving workplace conflicts in a professional manner. Hopefully, everyone walks away satisfied with the outcome.

Make sure you are unbiased and set clear goals for the conversation before you begin.

Collaborating

Once the dust has settled, it’s key to have your team working harmoniously and collaborating again, having people avoid working with each other within a team is not efficient on any level.

Having people who may have had a previous conflict work together on a shared goal can be a great way to get people communicating effectively again and winning together. This positive experience together can go some way to erasing the previous bad experience and set them up for continued collaborative success which is both great for them, the team, and the business.

Although not for everyone, out of work bonding sessions can also work well, taking the focus off work for a while and having people collaborate and have fun together can sometimes be great for mending previously fractured relationships, just be sure to pick something that fits with the culture of your team to make sure everyone is bought in, this is key.

Michaela Rodgers, Rovva

Nima Patel, founder of Mindful Champs, says making and maintaining friendships at work can be challenging, however it is really important.

‘We spend a large majority of our time at work so having close connections within that space greatly contributes to your mental health,’ Nima tells Metro.co.uk.

‘When it comes to forming friendships, one of the most important things you can do is become more self-aware and emotionally intelligent. If you’re having a bad day or feeling upset, it’s easy to take that out on those around you – including your colleagues.

‘This, of course, is no way to form friendships; instead, you might make your colleagues feel uncomfortable. I would recommend checking in with yourself daily, reflecting on your day, how you’re feeling and taking the time to enjoy some self-care.

‘More specifically, this self-care should include an activity that’s centrered around mindfulness, for example journalling or meditation; this allows you to better understand your emotions, evaluate how best to process them and generally gain some perspective.’

Nima says this will enable you to enter the workplace without projecting onto your co-workers or unwittingly creating a tense atmosphere. She says you will become more open, insightful and self-aware – traits we all look for in a friend.

She adds that emotional intelligence is key for building workplace relationships.

‘Adults should be educating themselves about emotional intelligence, they should also be teaching their little ones about self-awareness,’ she says. ‘These skills don’t come naturally with age, they’re things we need to work on throughout out lives.

‘It’s also very easy to become competitive in work environments; you’ll naturally want to get ahead, meaning you might prioritise your own growth and deadlines above all else.

‘If you’re hoping to form friendships in the workplace, it’s important that you develop more of a supportive and team-driven mindset; you need to support others on their journeys, remain open to helping your colleagues and offer your support wherever you can. Friends want their friends to win; this is the same whether you met at work or not – the core building blocks of a happy friendship don’t change.’

Nima acknowledges that extending friendships outside of the workplace is an entirely different hurdle.

‘It’s easy to feel awkward in this situation, bridging the gap between colleagues and genuine out-of-work friends,’ she says. ‘Fortunately, it needn’t be difficult.

‘By investing time into becoming self-aware, you’ll naturally gain confidence and suddenly asking your colleagues to go for drinks won’t seem so daunting.

‘I would suggest scheduling a time/date for the entire office, inviting anyone who would like to join; go for something casual, like a group dinner or drinks, and consciously plan the date in your diary.

‘This will allow you to let your hair down and really get to know your co-workers on a personal level.’

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