How to build relationships at work, while staying professional

Image: Freepik

Image: Freepik

Published Jun 11, 2024


Jason Walker

HAVING meaningful connections in the workplace is essential for personal and professional success. Most of us form these bonds naturally, as we spend a significant amount of our lives at work.

Many people in their 20s move to new cities for career opportunities, where they face the task of creating a brand new social circle from scratch. The workplace becomes an ideal place for people to connect. Activities like grabbing drinks after work, playing team sports or just sharing meals serve as opportunities to form connections with co-workers.

However, as individuals reach milestones like getting married or starting a family, their priorities in life naturally shift. The after-work hangouts and casual meet-ups start taking a backseat to family commitments and home responsibilities. Consequently, you might find that keeping up with work friendships becomes more challenging over time.

There is a difference between typical co-worker relationships and true friendships. Generally speaking, people we work with are not necessarily our friends. In our personal lives, it often takes years of building trust to bring someone into our circle of close friends.

Yet many of us do develop lasting friendships with colleagues we have worked alongside – often for years. For instance, I’ve made a number of friends at work who I respect and trust immensely. One of my best friends is someone I met on the job. Our friendship continued to thrive long after I left that workplace.

Friendships can result in substantial benefits. A 2021 survey on workplace friendships and happiness found that 57 % of workers said having a friend at work significantly boosted job satisfaction. About 22 % believed friendships in the workplace enhanced their efficiency, while another 21 % thought these connections stimulated innovation.

Essential guidelines

To ensure that workplace friendships remain positive, there are some essential guidelines and boundaries to consider.

Go out of your way to acknowledge all your co-workers and celebrate their accomplishments. This kind of positive behaviour should not be reserved for friends.

Maintain your professionalism at work, even when spending time with friends.

Avoid behaviours that may exclude others and steer clear of gossip. While not everyone may naturally form friendships, maintaining a respectful attitude is important.

Handle conflict professionally. If you and your work friend run into difficulty in your relationship, address issues maturely and work together to resolve them.

Balance socialising with working. If your friendship is taking up too much of your time or impacting productivity, adjust how you interact at work.

Don’t engage in favouritism. Ensure your friendship doesn’t lead to cronyism or nepotism, which can harm team dynamics and trust.

Respect for privacy is important in all relationships. At work, this includes not sharing personal information about your work friends with other colleagues.

Having friendships at work is not only beneficial for mental and physical health, it can also help people thrive within the confines of a structured business environment.

  • Article first published by The Conversation