When Ms Nurul Huda Bte Abdul Rasheed’s mother was hospitalised for one month in 2020, her work friends proved to be a strong pillar of support.
“I knew I could rely on my close friends at work to hold the fort. They also reached out to help ease my workload so I could focus on caring for my mother. That’s something I will always treasure and cherish,” Nurul shared.
Nurul, 34, is an associate director at public relations firm Asia PR Werkz. To her, work friendships mean being able to rely on and connect with her colleagues on a personal front.
Like Nurul, work friends are also integral to Mr Andy Soh’s life. Andy, 38, is a senior producer at digital-first creative production company Media.Monks. He credits them for keeping his morale high and providing guidance, which improves his work efficiency.
Besides that, Andy also enjoys having meals with his colleagues and hanging out with them after work, where they discuss challenges and how to overcome them.
Nurul and Andy’s experiences are a testament to the importance of work friendships in keeping employees productive and engaged.
There’s also research to back up the importance of having close friends at work. A 2021 survey found that 57% of employees felt that having a best friend made their work more enjoyable, while 22% agreed that work friends made them more productive. Conversely, those with no friends or who have fewer than five friends often felt lonelier and more disengaged.
Explaining the link between productivity and workplace relationships, Professor Teresa Amabile from Harvard Business School said: “People are more creative and productive when they experience more positive inner work life, including more positive emotions, stronger motivation toward the work itself and more positive perceptions of the organisation. And one of the things that contribute to positive inner work life is a sense of camaraderie with teammates and close co-workers — a sense of bonding and mutual trust.”
These strong relationships can also translate to better work performances because our colleagues are more likely to share information and exchange ideas with us.
Nurturing friendships at work
The Covid-19 pandemic has made hybrid working arrangements a necessity in our workplace. But even with this new normal and the perceived sense of separateness we’re experiencing, there are always ways to reach out and connect more meaningfully with our colleagues.
1. Leverage on similarities
Research shows that we like people who are similar to us because they validate our attitudes. It is also more fun to spend time with someone who shares the same interests as us.
To foster closer bonds with colleagues in a natural and authentic way, we could start by picking topics such as hobbies, passions or life views to discover our commonalities.
In subsequent conversations, we could reference things that were said to show we were actually listening and interested in what they had to say. Over time, actions like these help create a safe space where each person can open up a bit more and be themselves.
2. Show concern
True friends genuinely care about each other. So, a good way to start building relationships is to express authentic concern. For instance, Andy always makes it a point to check on his colleagues when he can.
“During virtual meetings, I always turn on the camera and encourage others to do the same so that I can see how they are doing. I also find it helpful to ask about my colleagues’ day before the meetings start,” he shares.
3. Celebrate milestones
When it comes to building relationships, every little bit counts. This includes celebrating our colleagues’ work achievements and even personal milestones such as birthdays, engagements, weddings, or personal fitness achievements.
4. Organise bonding activities
To get to know colleagues better, Nurul suggests organising fun bonding activities. Such activities also help everyone destress.
“It could be as simple as catching a movie, going for a gym session together or grabbing dinner together,” she says.
With hybrid working arrangements, attending virtual team workouts to keep fit together can also help.
Contrary to popular belief, mixing work with pleasure isn’t just fun, it’s also beneficial because it makes you more engaged and satisfied with your job. The friends that you make at work today may become your pillar of support throughout your life, so it’s worthwhile to invest in meaningful relationships at work.