Can you be friends with your colleagues?

Group of three women, outside, huddled together laughing. Sunlight appears to distort the left half of the picture, so the features of the woman to the left are slightly distorted. She has wavy brown hair and is wearing a black hat. We are only able to see the face of the woman in the middle, whose brown hair is tied black. She is laughing and wearing glasses. We see the woman to the right at a side angle, her arm is gently holding a black and white scarf that is draped over her shoulders. Her blonde hair is tied back and she is also laughing.

The answer isn’t a simple yes or an obvious no. In my first permanent job I quickly became friends with the people I directly worked with. We had a group WhatsApp, would hang out at weekends and go for drinks after work. It was great until it wasn’t. A team restructure quickly made things awkward. Clear divisions were formed between the new managers and those of us who hadn’t been promoted. We did still hang out on weekends, but less often and there was always the ugly, ‘Restructure’ elephant in the room.

Pros

For a start being friends with the people you work with makes it a lot easier to do your job. The majority of our time is spent on working so being able to have a laugh together, helps you enjoy what you do. I once worked in an office where everyone sat in silence and, when they did talk it was only about work. This made for an uncomfortable environment where I found it difficult to ask for guidance. The job was in digital marketing, but instead of being able to bounce ideas around with my team, I closed in on myself. Because there was no team rapport, I dreaded going into work and spending 8 hours sitting in silence. After less than 3 months I quit.

6 months’ later, when I started at my first permanent role, I hadn’t gone in with the intention of becoming so pally with everyone in my team, but I ended up fitting in from day one. We were all in our early to mid 20s at the time and it felt like an extension of University. I didn’t have many friends living in the same city as me so it was a confidence boost being so close with my colleagues.

Cons

I don’t regret becoming such good friends with my team mates. The first 6 months were pretty great, we were all at similar professional levels but when that changes, it becomes difficult to ask your friend turned manager for a pay rise after you’ve both seen each other wasted on several occasions.

Lines can quickly become blurred between being friends and being professional. The restructure caused a lot of tension, particularly between those who had been working similar roles for the same amount of time, for one of them to then get promoted. Although the restructure didn’t directly affect me, it disrupted the whole team/friendship dynamics and started to cause rifts.

Friendship groups at work can also come across as cliquey and it can be difficult for newcomers to feel part of the team. This was something I noticed at the time and it was one of the reasons that I started to distance myself from the group. Had we not been so close knit, many of us wouldn’t have been left feeling under-valued and struggling to voice our opinions with co-workers.

Finding Balance

In the same job, I later became firm friends with someone in a different team (interestingly, around the time of the restructure). We worked in the same office and sat behind each other but we weren’t directly working together, so our friendship was formed out of something more than our jobs. We could both offload to each other, not worrying about if anything we had said about our jobs would come back to slap us in the face. As we weren’t in the same teams, we could also see things from a different viewpoint and give helpful advice on dilemmas. We have now moved to different roles in different organisations but we are still really close. I put this down to bonding over our shared loved of food, rather than our work environment.

As for those that I was directly working with, for most, the pandemic has shown that the only thing that was keeping us in contact was that we once worked together. I am still friends with a couple of people, where we have built experiences together and proven to each other that our friendships are stronger than just being colleagues at one point.

In my current job I get on really well with my co-workers. We can have a laugh together and non work related chats (which is particularly important during a global pandemic when it’s easy to feel isolated). We are friendly but we wouldn’t hang out at the weekends. It’s best to build good rapport with them, and allow time for friendships to form.

The most important thing I learnt from being so close with colleagues is that you need to set boundaries for yourself about what you allow to cross over from work into your personal life. I went into my current role with clear boundaries – like avoiding WhatsApp groups – which has been great to find balance and avoid drama between co-workers.

What’s your attitude to being friends with your colleagues? Is there anything you have learnt from having work friends?

6 Comments

  1. I definitely think balance is key. I get on really well with my team and we’ll do a Christmas gathering but we don’t all hang out outside of work and I think that’s a positive thing. We have a work Whatsapp group but with our work phones, not personal. Me and my boss are friends outside of work but will use our work phones for work matters and personal phones for friend chat. We also won’t talk about work when we see each other as friends. It is definitely a fiiiiine line and being friends outside of work can cause tensions if something in work effects you both.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is a really good balance you’ve got with your work friends and co-workers. Having a WhatsApp group on your work phones is a much better idea. I learnt a heck of a lot from that job about setting boundaries. Really great that you have a work and friend relationship with your manager and you’ve both agreed on the boundaries for it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think we can be very very good friends with colleagues. Some of my closest friends are people I met at my old workplace. But I agree with you – you need to set up some boundaries especially if it’s a senior-junior relationship. I was (still am) very very good friends with an ex boss. But I felt like it was never comfortable whenever we had year end conversations – she could never be very harsh with me to my face – so it was very awkward.
    My rule is since I see these people 5 days a week – I take a full 2 day break from them on the weekend – like no weekend outings and hangouts with them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That does sound awkward and I also know what that feels like. It’s so nice that you are still really close with old colleagues. And you’ve got good rules in place. I think it will also change how office friendships work with more people working from home in the future

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting topic. A colleague once said to me ‘Never underestimate the power of colleagues’ and she was right – that day to day sharing and support. However there has to be more if a friendship follows including an involvement of sorts in that person’s life. Look at me and a certain person you know! Colleagues in the 1980s and friends for decades!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very good points and your ex-colleauge sounds very wise. That friendship is the best example of why being friends with your colleagues can be so wonderful x

      Like

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