Why We're Not Work Friends

Are your work friends few and far between? Here are two compelling reasons why that could be.

Making friends at work can be tricky. As with siblings, you don't get to choose who you work with (unless you're the boss). Instead, coworkers are bestowed upon you out of necessity and chance. And while you're all in it together, aligned with business goals and mothership strategies, you may otherwise have little basis for friendship.

I adore both my older sister and my younger brother, and not just because we're related. Growing up, however, we weren't necessarily a trio of compatriots like the Kardashians. We were three very unique people who just happened to share the same parents and household rules (like institutional-grade chores and not throwing avocados at passing cars while hiding in the bushes). Personality-wise, one of us was obedient, another was prone to rebellion, while yet another carried on without consequence.

Such is the case in the workplace. You and your work colleagues are all in it together, a mishmash of contrasting and complementary personalities, working with the same resources and against the same restrictions, whether you like it or not. Though you didn't choose them, can you be work friends? Do you even want to be?

Do you have a "No friends at work" policy?

If you think about what attracts you to others, often the primary variable is circumstance. You were in the same second grade class; you lived across the street from each other; you went to camp together; you shared the same dorm room floor. The same goes for work friends. Amidst all the ways you could be different, you and your professional pals have one big thing in common: your employer.

And when you take into consideration your company's culture and organization-wide goals, this simple commonality may be more telling than it is random. Perhaps it means you're both passionate about the industry or you take pride knowing that every day you create or do something meaningful for your company's customers.

Whatever it is, having a self-imposed "no friends at work policy" could limit you from enjoying the friendship of people who are a lot like you. Research indicates that making and cultivating work friendships can increase productivity and general passion for one's job. The correlation between having friends at work and enjoying your job is clear: If you like being around the people at your company, you'll be less inclined to leave.

It's not you, it's us

Even if you're not intentionally limiting yourself to a friendless work experience, there's still a chance you may not make many. Chances are it's neither you nor them – it could be your combined worktionality.

Think of all the ways people can be different at work – from Type As and Type Bs to Procrastinators paired with Expeditors to Thinkers versus Doers. Now imagine lifestyle discrepancies like various generations, life stages and outside interests. Sometimes all the pieces fall into place and a work friendship is born; other times there needs to be a major adjustment in order for colleagues to even make it work professionally.

Why you're not friends with your coworkers

When it comes down to why you're not best buds with your coworkers, chances are it falls into one of these two broad categories:

1. Work style, aka professional personality. Let's say Erin, a project manager, loves to be in control, enjoys creating lists – and crossing off completed tasks – and thrives in an orderly environment. Now imagine when Erin meets her new colleague Dave, a production artist. Dave gets inspiration in the moment, can't remember what he ate for dinner the night before and doesn't know how to color code a spreadsheet. No matter how cool Erin and Dave are outside the office, combined in a work setting, the two may never see eye to eye. And when you can barely understand where someone is coming from in the office, you're not likely to want to spend time with him or her out of it.

We spend a lot of time getting to know our colleagues' work personalities. Maybe it's time to get out of the office, do a couple trust falls, and get to know the real Erin and Dave. You may find that you have a stronger foundation as real friends than work friends.

2. Lifestyle, aka out-of-the-office personality. Not everyone works at a company where the majority of employees are aligned, whether attitudinally or generationally. I have a friend who works almost exclusively with Millennials, ping-pong tables and free snacks. There's no admin – just a Chief Happiness Officer. In settings like this, it's easy to feel instant camaraderie if you're like everyone else. But if you have to opt out of foosball tournaments to head to your kid's soccer game, you may feel like an outlier.

Coworkers are often at different stages of their lives and at different points in their careers when they meet, and this can make it difficult to be workplace BFFs. Even if it's not a generational thing, sometimes you work with people who have different personal interests and goals. Some are deep into a one-point-five-year wedding plan. Others are hardcore softball leaguers. Others simply keep to themselves. Point is, personalities differ. Not all coworkers will reach work friend status. But that doesn't mean you can't be awesome acquaintances.

Making work friends more like family

Work friendships, like sibling relationships, require compatibility, alignment and effort – and not necessarily in equal parts. But if you're lucky, circumstance will bring exceptional people into your work family who inspire you, challenge how you think and make you want to cover for them when they're past curfew running late for that big meeting.

Related posts: