Friends With Benefits. Good For Business?
Updated: Aug 25
Friends and colleagues are generally supposed to belong to two different worlds. In the legendary words of George Costanza (ref Seinfeld), when our worlds collide there is chaos! That’s why when it comes to the workplace, even the most social butterfly clams up. Our co-worker conversations are limited to ‘hellos’ and ‘how are you’ and ‘all well’ each time we meet at the coffee machine. There is a reluctance to make more of an effort.
In the many parts of the world, outside of company-sponsored outings, it is inconceivable that one would ever go on a vacation with a work colleague! Studies indicate that less than 6% of Americans have gone on a vacation with a co-worker whereas more than 50% of Indians have. The Western world clearly likes to keep their worlds from colliding. If you agree that it is probably a good practice, then you are part of the majority that believes that work relationships cannot be fruitful.
Yet, time and time again, surveys keep telling us that employees who are engaged with their peers tend to stay longer in jobs, are happier and more productive overall. The very purpose of corporate employee engagement efforts like a recreation room filled with graffiti and bean bags and table tennis equipment is to foster such bonhomie! And now the added dimension of Facebook ‘friends’! How much do you want the weird guy in the third cubicle to know about your summer vacation?!
Friends and Corporate Hierarchy
Colleagues spend eight or more hours together. Much more than the typical hours of sleep or family time that a person gets. It seems intuitive that having a friend and confidante around during these eight hours can really help take a load off. Many agree that walking into an environment with such positive connections can be a blessing. Yet, a mixed blessing. Sooner or later work hierarchies, reporting lines, performance appraisal discussions and promotion lists get in the way. The pressure to maintain friendships becomes an additional stressor. Yet, considering we spend most of our wakeful hours at work, who else do we really have to turn to in times of crisis?
Here are a few ways to build good, lasting relationships with your peers at work:
Always make an effort to eat a meal with the team. Food is a great bonding agent.
Find common areas of interest and plan a few activities that everyone would enjoy.
Find things to do outside of work that help you be more than just a work team.
When dealing with individuals, do consider the message you are sending across. Be sure that they know that these interactions are just friendly.
If you feel you can help a colleague through a crisis, gently offer help.
Never share a conversation that happened in confidence, unless it puts someone’s life or well-being at risk.
Friends Who Mean Business
Taking this social awkwardness to another level is the increasing lure of entrepreneurship. When you or one of your colleagues or friends start your own business, you are sure to reach out for connections. A business thrives on connections, so someone who has never had a chance to build valuable relationships probably has no chance of advertising their service through friends.
Many times you may have to work with your ex-employer as a consultant or freelancer or service provider. The inroads you make into corporate deals usually come thanks to ex-colleagues who were friends, ones that care about you doing well and succeeding.
As for when your friend turns an entrepreneur, the best thing you can do is never expect free favours. Support their business by buying from them when you need their service, but never expect that they should offer you a discount for being a friend. Indeed, it may just be one freebie for you to flaunt, but for them, it is a livelihood. Instead genuinely promote their business and help open doors for them.
These are just a few pointers that you can get started with. The best thing you can do for any professional relationship is to make it sustainable. Never be unreasonable with your expectations, and always approach new people with an open mind. It may just be the case that you find a new set of best friends in a new place, or perhaps you find people who know more than you and are willing to share that knowledge. Give more than you take!