For many people, work is just that: work. Whether you love your job or hate it (or both, from week to week), it’s a place where you go to fulfill your responsibilities, solve company problems, earn a wage and then return home to spend it. Making friends at work is never going to be one of your job responsibilities, and for many people, work friends are not an important part of their professional life.
But at the same time, making friends at work can incontrovertibly make your life much better! A study by Officevibe found that 70% of employees say that work friends are the most crucial element of happy working life. 74% of women and 58% of men said that they would refuse a higher-paying job if it meant not getting along with their coworkers. Having good friends at work is also a way to reduce work-related stress: maybe you’ll be more comfortable asking someone for help with an intense workload, or you have someone you can vent to about work problems who understands the situation completely.
How do I make work friends?!
So far, so good. But what if you struggle with making friends? What if you’re shy or an introvert? What if you’ve just moved companies (or cities) and don’t know how to make friends at your new job? These seven tips will help you get on with most people in the workplace and, might just help you find your new work BFF.
1. Consider your body language
A lot of our shyness is carried in our bodies, but body language can be difficult to read. If you’re nervous or shy, some of your gestures - like folding your arms, keeping your head down, avoiding eye contact and more - might be coming across not as shy but as surly or unfriendly. Make an effort to track your own body language and consciously show that you are open to talking and making friends with your colleagues.
Sometimes this can be as simple as smiling and making eye contact with people who cross your path. Say “hello” and have a little chat (“How are you? How was your weekend?”) if you’re in a space that works for it, like a breakroom or before a meeting gets started. Keep your shoulders back, your head lifted, and avoid gestures that will cut you off from your surroundings, like putting your headphones on straight away when you reach your desk. People have to see that you’re open to conversation and connection in order to want to converse and connect with you!
2. Ask questions
For a lot of shy or introverted people, making conversation can feel overwhelming or unnatural, especially when you don’t know someone very well. If you keep getting trapped in awkward silences or start looking for that escape hatch during some chit-chat, a useful tip is that most people love to talk about themselves! Ask a question or two about their life, and watch them open up. And who knows, maybe you’ll stumble upon a shared interest!
Especially when you join a new company, it’s often more useful (and less overwhelming for you) to come in quietly. You don’t have to fight your natural instincts and push yourself to talk all about you, you, you. Rather, observe how your colleagues connect with one another, ask questions about them and take a few days to get the lay of the land. You’ll find that listening and asking questions helps you get a sense of people much better than if you explode onto the scene forcing yourself to be an extrovert.
3. Decorate your workplace
First of all, decorating your workplace is a great way to make yourself happier about coming to work every day. Add some photos, plants, collectibles or anything that is workplace appropriate and expresses your personality, and those long days will have some cheerful company.
But it’s also a great way to break the ice and showcase your personality to your potential work friends. Maybe you’ll discover a shared love of Marvel via your Tony Stark Funko Pop. Maybe your holiday pics will encourage a fellow traveller to stop by your desk to chat. Not only are you sharing your personality with your colleagues, you’re also showing elements of your personality that they could connect with.
This is also a tip that can work very well in a remote working situation - just move your décor behind you, so that the cool Dune poster is visible in your next Zoom!
4. Look for similarities
Let’s face it: in some ways, work is a weird place to make friends. You’ve been assigned a group of potential friends almost randomly, with no guarantee you’ll have much in common besides your working responsibilities, and depending upon the company you might have quite a small pool from which to make friends at work. So it’s important to find the similarities between you.
Sometimes this might be work itself! Many coders love to bond over coding, which can be a calling as much as it is a job. Fun projects, interesting problems, and a shared interest in the field can help you make friends at work. Just be careful not to connect too early over problems at work - you don’t want to get a reputation as someone who is always complaining, or get in trouble for moaning about your boss with someone you don’t know that well.
But you should also keep an eye out for the other interests that can help you make friends at work. Maybe you both love the same sport or have similar taste in films. For an introvert, activities like this can be particularly useful because they involve spending time together more passively. If you’re worried about making conversation all evening, attending an event where you’re expected to be quiet or observant can help take the pressure off.
5. Join workgroup activities
Most companies offer a range of extracurricular activities to help their employees connect and enjoy themselves at work. If you find an activity that suits you, it’s a great way to connect with your co-workers over your shared interest, as well as a way to meet new people outside of your immediate team. Workgroup activities can range from sports to a film club to a cocktail tasting group and more - find the one that appeals to you, and if there’s something that you want that isn’t there, maybe you could start it!
It’s important to join the activities that feel good to you. Be prepared to step out of your comfort zone, but don’t feel like you have to throw yourself in the deep end. A good trick is to try something out once, and then feel comfortable saying “it’s not for me!” if you didn’t enjoy it. Maybe a work party will give you the kind of big group setting (not to mention liquid courage!) you need to make a great work friend, or maybe it will be too overwhelming and you prefer to go to smaller gatherings. If you’re not ready to join an activity-orientated group, you could start small: see if there’s a work WhatsApp group you could join, or have lunch with members of your team. The important thing is to find a space outside of the office (virtual or not) where you can connect and maybe make a new friend.
6. Be aware of boundaries… but not afraid of them
Maybe the person you get on best with is your manager. Maybe you earn a lot more than the person at work you like most. Because there are always hierarchies (whether acknowledged or not!) at a company, you might feel these hierarchies more in workplace friendships than you would with a friend who works somewhere else. And it can, of course, have an impact on your friendship.
But an impact doesn’t always need to be “bad”, and true friendship can occur across the workplace, no matter what your respective roles are. If you’re careful to maintain professional boundaries, your personal friendship doesn’t have to suffer. This might involve a bit of negotiation over time - maybe there are some things you agree to talk about and some things which are “off-limits”. But in the end, if you and your manager are both hiking obsessed, don’t let the professional boundaries ruin the chance to make a good friend at work!
7. Don’t worry about making friends with everyone
Remember the difference between being friendly and being a friend. Everyone can - and should! - be the first, because that’s part of being a good colleague. You want to be warm and open to your co-workers, whether or not you’d like to hang out with them after hours. But even an extrovert might struggle to be friends with every single person in their workplace, and there will be people in your workplace who for all sorts of reasons - their personal situation, their interests, their personality, their style of conversation - wouldn’t be a good friend for you. So don’t feel the pressure to befriend every co-worker who crosses your path.
Rather, concentrate on cultivating friendships with the people you really feel a connection with. Even one good work friend can make a real difference to your working life. And who knows, maybe it’ll be another introvert like you!