• It’s great to have friends at work, but our workplace connections can require some social navigating. For many people, getting to know their coworkers is a little awkward.  
  • Despite how stiff water cooler talk can be, getting past that phase (by becoming friends at work) is beneficial for you and the people you connect with. 
  • Introverts and extroverts may approach making friends at work differently—introverts may realistically make only a few connections, while extroverts may have their sights set on the whole office. 
  • Knowing your social “default mode” can help you create professional boundaries while still making friends at work. 
  • Helpful suggestions for maintaining professional friendships include showing interest in coworker’s lives outside of work, not speaking badly of others, celebrating your coworker’s successes, and more.

I’m guessing you have at least two people at your current workplace with whom you’re close. Okay, maybe not close enough to ask them to cat-sit this weekend but close enough that you feel comfortable sharing some details of your life outside of work. They might know your favorite sports teams, what reality shows you love, what you like to eat, or maybe even what your dream job is (hopefully you already have it, though). Often stiffly referred to as water cooler talk, making friends at work can sometimes feel like more work

Professionals of all trades might sense an internal tug-of-war, between wanting to genuinely connect with their coworkers and not wanting to be too friendly or even too quiet. But having friends at work is totally fine, and in fact, we should be encouraging it. With the right approach, maintaining friendships at work can help improve your job performance, job satisfaction, and your mental health, too. So go on—show off those family vacation photos and gather around the water cooler. 

Is Having Friends at Work Worthwhile?

Study after study confirms that our brains reward us for connecting with others, and doing so motivates us to continue with our pro-social behavior. Friendships make us feel more comfortable and connected with others; two sensations that help foster a positive work environment. When we have friends in our professional lives, we’re also more likely to stay committed to a company, be willing to work harder at our position, and report higher job satisfaction. It literally pays to have friends at work. 

But the extent to which we’re able to connect with our colleagues is what makes having friends at work such a unique situation. Attending a baseball game with someone you’ve known since your college days is going to be far different from a lunch break spent with Rachel from accounting. So where, exactly, do we draw the line?

Professional Boundary-Setting, for the Introverted and Extroverted 

By now, you’ve realized that not all professional relationships develop into friendships, and that’s okay. For some, workplace banter and engagement offer the perfect opportunity to unleash their inner extrovert. But more introverted professionals may have learned to sculpt a professional personality that’s nothing like their hushed demeanor when they’re off the clock. And creating that mask is shown to take a lot of energy and willpower

Ponder whether social interactions at work seem to energize or drain you. It may be more realistic for introverts to aim for maintaining only a handful of friends at work, but for the more extroverted, you may have no issue having many. Knowing your own social predisposition can also help you form boundaries with your work friends. 

Introverts should be aware that their quiet nature can appear standoffish, anti-social, or unprofessional. Even if it feels a little unnatural, introverted professionals should exercise their ability to socialize when possible; lunch breaks (even over Zoom if you work remotely), one-on-one meetings, and hallway encounters can be opportunities to connect, instead of panic. And when it’s needed, you can pop in your headphones and head out on a solo walk for coffee, or even take a few minutes to meditate at your desk or workstation (don’t worry about being stared at, either—you don’t have to close your eyes to feel Zen). For introverts who work from home, you can simply block out your calendar to ensure you get some time to yourself, which will fuel your productivity, and recharge your social battery.

Extroverts may easily come across as overly talkative, nosey, or unfocused without reigning in that social butterfly instinct. Though you may want to continue a conversation after your lunch break ended, or get the full scoop on a work friend’s weekend adventures, don’t be pushy—and don’t take it personally if your work friends end the conversation sooner than you’d like them to. 

6 Easy Do’s and Don’ts for Maintaining Friendships at Work

If you’re looking to make more friends at work, or just want to maintain the relationships you already have, we’ve put together six helpful suggestions for cultivating healthy, balanced friendships at work. You could be on your way to being a better work friend if you: 

  1. Do remember that you aren’t the main character at work—ask about your colleagues’ personal lives as much as you talk about your own. 
  2. Don’t share too much with your friends at work; if you do need to confide in someone about a serious personal or professional issue, it might be best to talk to Human Resources. And if you need to take a mental health day to figure some things out, don’t hesitate to do so. 
  3. Do remember that it’s natural to form friendships with certain colleagues more easily than others, especially if you share common interests or experiences. 
  4. Don’t be someone who makes a habit of talking badly about another coworker, task, or manager. Toxicity can permeate a work environment quickly, and most of us can recall positions that made us miserable because of unnecessary passive-aggressive behavior. You may manage to make your friends at work laugh with a snarky comment, but they’ll also worry about what you say about them. 
  5. Do celebrate the successes of your coworkers, even if you feel self-conscious or envious. They’ll remember who came out of the woodwork to lift them up in their best moments. The next time you need help with a last-minute project, or are being recognized for your ideas or efforts, your friends at work will be more than happy to offer you the limelight.
  6. Don’t forget that your position will likely affect to what extent you’re able to make friends at work. Those in management or supervisor positions should be cautious of how becoming closer to certain coworkers. This may be interpreted as showing favoritism or bias, even if their actions are benign. 

Having friends at work can make your professional life more vibrant, successful, and wholesome, and you’ll avoid developing boreout. The best way to maintain your professional friendships is to balance your personal comfort zone and your workplace’s expectations. When you find that happy medium, others will notice—and making friends will become more natural. 

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