We all know that having close friendships can be essential to our health and happiness… but sometimes it can feel like the older we get, the fewer friends we end up with. Old pals move away, tight-knit groups find it harder and harder to get together, and best buds slowly become acquaintances we see at high school reunions and our Facebook feeds.
In fact, a Lifeboat survey recently found that less than a quarter of Americans feel truly satisfied with their friendships, and most wish they had deeper friendships (not just more friends). And if you’re hoping to stay closely connected on Facebook to drifting friends, think again: the study found no clear relationship between number of friends or Facebook usage and friendship satisfaction or number of close friends. (See infographic below for more information about the study.)
So where can we go to make those close connections we’re seeking? Look no further than the place where you already spend half of your waking hours… the office. Forbes recently reported on the Lifeboat study, talking to the co-founders about the implications the “national friendship crisis” has in the workplace. “Friendship is a major dynamic in people’s lives and nobody just leaves it back at home,” co-founder of Lifeboat Tim Walker told Forbes.
There are at least two camps of thought when it comes to friendship in the workplace. For some, friendship between colleagues can lead to distractions at work, and blurred lines make work decisions more complicated. But others—like Lifeboat—argue that this is an outdated way of thinking about friendship in the office. Co-founder Alia McKee says friends and work do mix—for one, the concept of work-life balance is a shaky one, with people spending more time at the office and more time continuing their work once they get home. With so much time spent at work, it’s inevitable that coworkers become friends—in fact, Lifeboat’s survey found that up to 50 percent of adults met at least one of their closest friends at work (the number is highest for those between the ages of 50 and 69, and lower for younger adults).
Forbes also reports that having good friends at the office can actually work in your favor at work… and in your boss’ favor, increasing productivity and employee retention. After all, if you don’t have close connections at the office, you may feel like you have less to lose by leaving to another job. A study earlier this year even found that people planning to stay at their current jobs cited a good relationship with co-workers as the major reason, above job satisfaction and salary.
This confirms what author Tom Rath reported back in in 2006 in his book, Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without. Rath found that people with just one friend at work are more likely to find their work interesting (likely making them happier at work and more likely to stick around). And people with three friends at work are actually practically guaranteed to be very satisfied with their lives.
But how do we actually go about making friends in the office? It can feel difficult to cross that imaginary line from coworker to buddy, but it can feel easy and natural with the right approach:
First, put in face-to-face time. Even—especially—if your office culture encourages email, phone, and instant messaging for commutation over face-to-face chats. Be open to coworkers swinging by your cube for a chat, and initiate in-person team huddles to chat about projects.
Ask questions—and share more personal info. No, you don’t share about that weird itch you’ve been having… but ask work acquaintances about their weekend or weeknight plans, and share yours. Divulging your hobbies and after-work life is an easy way to learn a little bit about each other.
Channel your inner social butterfly. Coordinate lunch outings and coffee breaks for your department or a small group of coworkers. Once you get to know each other better, suggest a drink after work.
Do you have friends at the office? How do you make connections at the office?