I value my work-life balance just as much as the next person. I readily embrace the weekend adventures that follow the final work hour on Friday. Each day when I close my laptop, I can’t wait to unwind with a post-work run or try out a new recipe for dinner. But what might come as a surprise is that many of those who join me outside the 9 – 5 hours are actually leaving the office alongside me. Can’t relate?
Why we avoid friendships at work
You’re not alone. And, early in my career I felt the same. The taboo of work friendships persists for a variety of reasons:
- Not wanting to blur the lines of work and personal life for fear of putting career at risk
- Preferring productivity to time taken up on social niceties in the office
- We change companies after a year or two – leading to a lack of motivation to put in effort to create connections with colleagues
I’m a young twenty-something who, thanks to studies and work, has moved five times to four different countries in almost two years. Work is often my first point of contact with my new environment. And while the idea of a group of friends outside the office is certainly appealing, the truth is that takes quite a bit of time and concentrated effort. This doesn’t mean I’m less selective in who I choose to spend my free time with. It just means I don’t let something unrelated to a person’s character, like the fact that they sit in the same office as me, automatically preclude them from being a friend.
This idea of forming bonds with those we spend the majority of our daylight hours with isn’t so outrageous. Many professional athletes forge friendships with one another despite being fierce competitors.
Off the pitch, off the court, off the circuit, that common connector of a shared daily experience lays a legitimate base for a friendship.Just look at Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. Their relationship originates from being teammates, but then goes deeper as friends, fathers and neighbors.
Likewise, my frienleagues (colleague friends) have become workout buddies, vacation companions and roommates, who regularly enrich my life.
The proof is in the pudding
For me, in and outside of work the benefits of these relationships are clearly evident.
1. Similar schedules
A basic fact that means a great deal. It means company while commuting, a reliable lunch date, a buddy to make post-work errands seem less of a chore and someone who is usually at a similar energy level if you want to go out at night.
Shared time outside of work builds dependable relationships that return to the office. After a mountain hike in the Alps unexpectedly turned into a mountain climb, I knew that the calm focus my colleague demonstrated during that adventure would be equally applied at work. Someone who has my back on an icy mountain slope is someone I can rely on anywhere.
3. Helpful advisers
Often colleagues have also relocated themselves. From explaining a new banking system, to providing a vehicle to help pick up apartment furniture, to giving encouragement while learning a new language, to simply lending a sympathetic ear during a particularly overwhelming day, these people are a support system like no other.
4. Shared interests
Companies of certain industries attract birds of a feather. Working at adidas, I don’t have to look far for folks eager for an after-work volleyball match or a weekend hike. They’re willing to help me cheer on my NBA team in the finals and are so impassioned by sport they’ll patiently try to teach me how to play soccer, er, football or take a wave on a surfboard.
5. Authentic experiences
When relocating to a new city or country, work friendships with locals have led to local experiences that would have remained otherwise foreign to me, like discovering the San Telmo nightlife of Buenos Aires, spending my first Christmas abroad in the warmth of a German home or snorkeling in Panama right off a colleague’s private beach.
At the end of the day…
My frienleagues simply resulted from work being the setting in which we first connected. Work isn’t what is at the heart of the friendships – like any, they’re far more complex than that (though it never hurts to put a “No Work Topics” ban on conversations).
It just might mean that frienduments (friend arguments ) can include whose turn it is to refill the printer. But if we are all trying to be greener, better people, then like most disagreements there’s usually an easy solution: go paperless.