Most of us will spend a third of our lives at work, so it should stand to reason that we put as much effort into our relationships at work as we do in our personal lives. Numerous studies show a key contributor to workplace happiness is having a friend at work. But having a workplace pal doesn’t just make work more enjoyable; it also helps you engage with the company and be more productive, too.
A 2014 survey by employee recognition firm Globoforce showed the more friends an employee has at work, the happier and more productive they are, and the less likely they are to leave for another job. The majority (71%) of employees with friends at work reported loving their companies, compared to only 24% of employees who didn’t have friends at work. Employees with a pal at the office reported being highly engaged (69%), and only 21% of employees with friends at work said they would leave their company for another job, compared to 42% of those who didn’t have a workplace friend.
“People spend an awful lot of time at work—increasingly more these days when people are working later in life—so it makes sense that you want to have a pleasant time there, and it’s not going to be a pleasant time if you don’t have people you get along with,” says Jane Sunley, author of It’s Never OK To Kiss The Interviewer and founder and CEO of the HR Consultancy Purple Cubed.
A workplace pal doesn’t have to be your BFF, though sometimes that happens, but the goal is simply to have someone you can trust and who you get along with to make the workdays more pleasant. Follow these tips to spark friendships at the office:
Most workplaces offer social events, special interest groups like reading groups, cycling clubs, or parent circles that encourage employees to bond over non-work related interests. Even if your company doesn’t offer any of these perks, you can still connect with colleagues by sitting down at the lunch table together or traveling to a meeting together.
“Being friendly towards work colleagues doesn’t require huge efforts,” says Katherine Crowley, author of Working For You Is Killing Me and Mean Girls At Work. “It involves thoughtful gestures that express your interest.” Look for simple gestures that show your genuine interest in a friendship with someone such as walking into the office and saying good morning or offering to bring a colleague a coffee when you get up to make one for yourself, or pitching in when a colleague is clearly swamped. “This can be anything from offering to carry boxes or assemble packets for a conference,” says Crowley. Remember, friendships aren’t forged overnight. “Becoming friends is a longer-term proposition and should be done over time,” says Crowley.
“People like people who are like themselves,” says Sunley. Listen to the conversations around you to identify common points of interest. If someone just came back from a vacation to Cape Cod, for example, and you’ve been there also, you can easily strike up a conversation about the location. If someone arrives at the office with a bicycle helmet, ask about their bike riding. If you notice a gym bag under your colleague’s desk, ask about their workout practice. Finding a non-confrontational frame of reference is a fast and easy way to build rapport.
While sharing personal information can help to build trust and rapport, too much personal information can put people off. Sunley advises avoiding talking about topics of a personal nature such as romantic relationships, at least in the beginning, and concentrating on general interest topics such as football, vacation locales, or hobbies.
You may be tempted to invite a new work pal out to dinner to strengthen your social bond, but Sunley advises against it. “Once you go into the evening space, it can be misconstrued,” she says. Stick to working hours for social engagements such as lunch dates or even travelling home on the same train if you take the same route as someone else.
While it may be tempting to wiggle your way into the “in crowd” by engaging in workplace gossip, getting a reputation as a Chatty Cathy isn’t the best way to forge lasting friendships. “Gossip creates a negative environment,” says Sunley. “You may be finding rapport with some people, but you’re alienating everyone else.” If you want to make real connections with your co-workers, stick to positive interactions and avoid polarizing discussions that may pit you against someone you work with.