Can you have real friends at work?

Can you have real friends at work?

Psychotherapist Guy Vicars suggests ways to better understand and manage friendships with colleagues


One of the things missing from social life is, well, social life. I’m not referring to going to the pub, although that may be part of it. I’m talking about real connections, where you spend time really connecting with people who know you, enjoy you, support you and care about what happens to you – what is sometimes called your "village".

For many professionals, the workplace is your village. It’s where you spend the bulk of your time and energy. If you are lucky it can offer an esprit de corps, where people support and enjoy wins and losses together.

Yet the workplace can seem and be antithetical to real friendships. Genuine connections that aren’t based on output and productivity, where you feel free to be yourself and let your guard down, are rare.


So, where’s the line between a professional, effective working relationship and a personal friendship?


Many of the qualities present in effective work relationships are the same as those in friendships.

This is a good thing. It’s healthy personally and effective professionally. Where it’s not so good is lack of clarity on the differentiation between their purpose and place.

The point where relationship roles and limits get blurred is usually where they become problematic.

There are two basic areas where problems arise:

1.  an imbalance between what two people want from a relationship

2.  a difference in seniority

If a colleague wants more time when you are trying to work and their attempts feel disruptive, you need to address the situation. Clarifying work roles and obligations with social needs is a healthy way to respect your colleague, your workplace and yourself.

When a colleague becomes more senior to you or vice versa, hierarchical structures in your workplace might mean that an equal relationship isn’t possible. By definition a friendship is one based on equality and mutuality, workplaces can’t always support this.


How to make workplace friendships work

If a working relationship feels like it is growing and becoming more personal, it’s helpful to set some parameters:

Recognise the confines of work and make time for the other person outside of office hours

Talk about non-work things during breaks, lunch or over coffee

It’s likely “work chat” will be part of your socialising, so ensure you set work discussions aside at times, enabling you to actually get to know the other person on a different level.

Friendships are worth their weight in gold. They make us more human and approachable and help reduce stress and enhance our work-life as well as our social life. Investing in those around you will pay solid personal dividends.


About the author

Guy Vicars is a practising psychotherapist, counsellor and trainer.


3 October 2017