The workplace is full of silly myths. You've probably heard them before:
who likes and respects you.
MYTH: "The customer is always right." REALITY: No one is always right, including customers.
MYTH: "We're not at work to make friends."
The reality? Of course we are. In fact, making friends at work is one of the most important things we'll ever do in our careers. The Gallup Organization thinks so, too, and they discovered a real link between workplace friendships and overall business results. Gallup also found that employees who have a best friend at work are seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs.
We can slice it however we want, but the stats say it loud and clear -- having friends at work is definitely a big deal.
Unfortunately, even in the face of all of this evidence, some people still believe friendship and work mix about as well as tequila and strawberry milk. Usually, that's because these people have a flawed idea of what it means to be a friend at work. That's why we need to begin by clearing up some common misconceptions about workplace friendships.
Being a friend at work doesn't mean that you have to share your innermost secrets with your co-workers. It also doesn't that you need someone at work who you can slack off with by taking extended lunches and watching YouTube. Having friends at work is all about three simple but incredibly important things: staying productive, staying happy and staying sane. Failing to do those three things could eventually kill your career. To understand why, let's take a closer look:
1. Staying Productive: Friends Always Have Your Back
There's no doubt that independence is a fantastic quality, but at the workplace, independence is incredibly overrated. Unless you have absolutely no human contact during your workday, being overly independent -- or worse, pulling the "I'm not here to make friends" routine -- will get you nowhere in a hurry. Eventually, you will need help or a favor from a co-worker, and it's during those times that having friends is critical, especially if you want to be as productive as possible.
Friends can put their own work on hold to help you pull together the presentation for tomorrow's department meeting. Friends can stay late to help you with the quarterly budget report because you're terrible with Microsoft Excel. Friends can cover for you while you're laid up at home with the flu.
Wait, I know what you're thinking.
No, you don't have to be a friend to do those things for a co-worker. In fact, you may even be forced to do those things for a co-worker that you can't stand. But if you're interested in lasting career success, you want people to want to work with and help you. Working well with others in a team setting is a critical workplace skill, and if you want to get the best from your teammates, it helps if they genuinely like you. On the other hand, having co-workers who don't want to work with you or help you can be absolutely devastating to your career.
2. Staying Happy: Friends Make Mondays Feel Like Saturdays
Besides sleep, do you know the one thing you'll likely do more than anything else in your adult life? You guessed it: work.
One study calculated that the average American will spend 122,400 hours at work during their lifetime. That's a lot of hours. Shouldn't it be priority number one to ensure that a large portion of those hours are spent with people whose company you actually enjoy? I hope so. No one likes to work in a joyless job.
It's nice to go to work and see people smiling back at you. It's nice to have people you can go to lunch or happy hour with and sincerely enjoy their company while doing so. It's nice to have people with whom you feel socially connected while you're away from your loved ones.
The simple pleasures of friendship have the ability to increase your workplace happiness and overall engagement, and it's easy to agree that happy and engaged employees are good employees. And if all of that happy talk wasn't enough, consider this: having friends at work could help you to live longer, too. Yes, seriously. If that's not a reason to make a new friend at the office tomorrow, then I don't know what is.
3. Staying Sane: Friends Keep You From Losing Your Mind
Sadly, there is little doubt that a good portion of your time at work will be spent working alongside people who drive you crazy. You may be stuck sharing a cubicle wall with a co-worker from hell, or worse, you may have to report to an insufferable boss, neither of which is helpful for your long-term sanity. In those cases, if you want to keep from losing your mind, you are really going to need a friend at work.
Venting to your significant other or your non-work friends about your workplace issues is cool, but since they're not in the trenches with you, it will be harder for them to truly empathize like a friendly co-worker can. Without a friend at work, your workplace challenges may end up getting the best of you and start having a negative effect on your attitude. Talking with friends at work whom you trust can help to keep the stress in perspective and keep you feeling mentally healthy.
In reality, it would be naive to believe that we can be friends with everyone in the office, and we don't need to be. However, choosing to neglect the critical importance of making genuine friend connections in the workplace is a huge mistake. Unless, of course, you want to slowly kill your career.
I want you to enjoy your career to the fullest and to feel sincerely happy at work. After all, isn't that what friends are for?
(Shola Richards is a contributor to Brazen Careerist. He is a corporate trainer and blogger at Cubepiphany (pronounced kyoob-pif-un-nee) on a personal mission. Brazen Careerist is a lifestyle and career blog for ambitious young professionals. This isn't your parents' career-advice column. Be Brazen.)