Do You Have to be Friends with Your Coworkers?

It can be difficult to know how to navigate workplace relationships. We all put too much emphasis on the need to be friends with our coworkers, but it’s not for everyone. Some psychologists would actually argue against having true friends in the workplace, aside from maybe a few people whom you would likely be friends with outside of work if you didn’t work there. Why is this? 

Having friends at work can have many downsides, the biggest one being a significant decrease in productivity.

One of the top sources of distractions in the workplace is from having coworkers in close proximity. Layer in being friends with these coworkers and that can be disastrous to your work efficiency and productivity.  Close friends will want to catch up on personal and work gossip and that tends to take priority over deadlines or getting work done. This can be especially difficult in an open workplace environment where you share work space.

In order to make progress in the workplace, there is a need to have disagreements. It’s important that coworkers bring different viewpoints to the table and are able to have a healthy dialogue of opinions and innovative solutions. When there are nothing but close friends having this conversation it’s likely that everyone shares a similar mindset, which kills creativity. And when there happens to be a difference of opinions, people will without a doubt take work disagreements personally and then likely gossip about it later. Moreover, friends are not able to confront issues head on, because they are afraid of offending the other person or upsetting them. This all spells workplace disaster.

So, if you’re wondering if you have to be friends with your coworkers, the answer is No. Sure, there is a need to be accountable, communicate effectively, and be sincere, but it never has to cross the line into a true friendship. In fact, by being these things, but no true friends, you are able to separate your personal life from your professional life. This way small things like someone’s coldness or attitude can be ignored or looked past, but tangible work problems like not getting a task done or not answering an email, cannot.

There is a need to be accountable, communicate effectively, and be sincere, but it never has to cross the line into a true friendship.

Being emotionally removed from your coworkers makes it that much easier for you to put your best career interests first. If there is a tangible work problem that is affecting your work, you’re able to take action to resolve that without being too emotionally invested in the situation or feeling uncomfortable. It allows you to see the workplace exactly what it is meant to be, which is a workplace. And if and when you want to move on to new exciting opportunities, you won’t have to consider how your friends will feel if you leave. There will be no internal workplace influences over your decision making.

It’s also really nice to leave work at work and leave home at home. In many close friendships that are formed at work, chatting about work outside of work and chatting about personal life at work, is inevitable. There is typically no clear set of boundaries when you both share the common ground of work, so those conversations always creep up in your time away from work. This can make you feel as though you never truly get a break from work.

Not having close friends at work also allows you to form healthy professional relationships. Have you ever been in a situation where you may be senior to your coworkers, but because you have close friendships with them, they likely don’t see you or treat you as a senior? The days are filled with them making jokes, gossiping about workplace issues, or trying to just socialize or plan for outside of work events with you – which would otherwise be unacceptable workplace behavior with someone who is their senior. It would then be hard for you to keep that line of professionalism and authority with the team because they know too much about you personally, or because they feel you are one of them.

Coworkers may mean well when they try and pull you into the latest gossip or ask probing questions about your life, but it may not be appropriate or welcomed. Think about if workplace friendships are right for you and if you decide they are not, there are ways you can keep your relationships friendly and professional, without needing to be invested into a true friendship. And even if right now you are a little more close to your coworkers than you’d like, you can change it without coming across as rude or anti-social. By working to set some healthy boundaries for your workplace relationships, you can free your time and your mind to do what you’re there to do, which is work. 

What is Happiness?

Happiness is a state of being and it’s also a choice. And everyone has the same desire to be happy.

Stay with me, here.

Happiness means different things to different people. Happiness feels different to different people. Happiness looks different to different people. This difference is everyone’s personal state of happiness. It’s completely open to interpretation. But it’s not difficult to understand what your own personal state of happiness is.

How do I find my “state of happiness”?

Most people will give you a list of questions to help to define your own happiness such as “what makes you genuinely happy?” Yeah, that’s no help. I believe that if you are given a specific set of questions such as the one above, or the famous “what would you do if you could not fail”, your brain won’t explore any other questions or possibilities that might help you shape your own happiness. Not to mention, who cares what you would do if you could not fail. That ruins the point of doing it in the first place. No one truly wants to be perfect because then what’s left after that?

I think it’s important to reflect on specific moments when you felt satisfied or fulfilled. That simple. From there, go through the basic 5 questions of who, what, where, when, and why to truly understand and start mapping out your personal state of happiness. That may look something like this:

  • What were you doing? Be as specific as possible. Really think back onto what is was that you were doing that made the activity so satisfying or so fulfilling.
  • Who were you doing this with? Were you alone, with a specific person, or perhaps even a group of people?
  • Where were you? What was around you? Sometimes we may have felt joy curled on the couch reading a book, but the reason on why is was so satisying is because there was a storm outside and the rainfall and thunder made us feel more joy than had it been sunny and warm. Or maybe you were in the grocery store and decided to break out into singing when your favorite song came on the radio. Happiness can be felt anywhere.
  • When did this take place? Was it first thing in the morning, during a work break, or even at 11:00 PM during your only free time? Recognizing the things that make us feel happiness is important, but the when we do them, can make all the difference.
  • Why were you doing what you were doing? I think this piece is extremely important. Most people fail to spend time thinking of why (“oh, I don’t know”, they’ll say, or “because that’s what I normally do”, but this is fundamentally important to understand if we are choosing to do things because we ourselves truly want to, or if there is some type of external influence to our decisions (which happens more often than not).

Through my own findings from this exercise, I found that I was not filling my days with enough of my own moments of happiness, but also when I was, the timing was completely misaligned. The two biggest issues were my lack of physical activity (and when I was it was at at the wrong time, doing the wrong type of activity). And I worked much longer than I was willing to work which meant that I was choosing every day to sacrifice time with loved ones, my own creative time, and time I loved to spend cooking fresh meals.

Two immediate changes I made were to switch the time of my workouts and to change the structure of my work days. I can’t always change the fact that I have to work more than 8 hours sometimes, but I can choose everything that happens in those 8 hours and sometimes that makes a huge difference to the amount that gets done (lessening the need to work so long all of the time). These alone have opened up more opportunities to fill in time with happy moments.

Ok, but you said it’s also a choice. Where does that fit in?

Would you get mad if I said “all of the time!”? Really though, you get to choose every day, every hour and every second whether or not you want to be happy or feel happy. I can just see the eyes rolling right now and hear the protests – right, so I’m getting divorced, so let me just be soooo happy about thatYeah, and I hate my job and don’t get paid enough to deal with what I have to deal with every day.

Ok, ok. So let me just say this.

To you, who is in the middle of a terrible and difficult divorce – why can you not choose to be happy each day? Even though the divorce process may be difficult beyond imagination, are you choosing to continue to fill your days with those moments that you found bring you satisfaction and fulfillment as found in the exercise above? Or perhaps you are viewing this one part of your life as your whole life and are letting it define you, even though it is something you are going through, not something that you ARE. You can still take control of so much else in your life and choose to fill it with satisfying moments and fulfillment. Maybe even more so now than you could before.

And to you, the job hater –  I get it. I may find myself in the same boat sometimes. Think of your work day in moments. Do you typically have more happy moments than not happy moments? Reflect on the tasks you do each day and write them out if it helps. Which ones bring you joy (do not think of external factors, meaning no “oh I would be happier doing this if so-and-so would get their act together and just do this”).

No, just think whether or not the specific job tasks make you feel personally satisfied or fulfilled. If they do, then your job isn’t what is bothering you, it must be something about the job that is misaligned with your personal values. If that is the case, you have to make the choice to either continue to live misaligned to personal values, or to find happiness and peace in your workdays knowing that you truly love what you do and by filling the days with more of your state of happy moments.

Think of it this way – If you ask someone “Are you happy” and they respond “yes”, that means that they understand their own state of happiness and also have chosen to feel happy in moments more often than not choosing to be happy in moments. If their answer is “no”, they may not have figured out their own personal state of happy and need to, or they are not making the choices each day to live their personal state of happiness.

Have you ever had a friend tell you that they aren’t happy for one reason or another, but they never seem to do anything about it? That’s the choice we’re talking about here. You have a daily choice to choose happiness and continue living in your own happiness. You just need to start mapping out what happiness means for you.


Photos by Andre Furtado from Pexels