Why Coworkers Are Not Your Friends, Unless…

“Your coworkers are not your friends” and “work friends are not real friends” are phrases you have likely heard before. They’re not entirely incorrect, but they also don’t capture the full reality and potential of working relationships. Coworkers may not be the same as your non-work friends. However, you can still build solid relationships in the workplace, and those relationships can help you, your career, and the business itself. 

In this blog, we’re going to take a close look at the relationships that exist in the workplace, the importance of setting boundaries, office dynamics, the importance of workplace relationships and friendships, and more. 

The Importance of Boundaries

First, let’s take a moment to talk about professional boundaries and their importance in maintaining a healthy work environment. Boundaries are key in creating a psychologically safe workplace

Put simply, boundaries are limits that people create to keep themselves mentally, emotionally, and physically safe/comfortable. These can be anything from not checking emails at night to not talking to coworkers about personal issues. Those might sound relatively insignificant, but setting boundaries can make a huge difference in your mental and physical health. For this blog though, we’ll be focusing on the mental and emotional aspect of boundaries. 

Without boundaries, it’s easy for things to go wrong quickly. For example, imagine someone who doesn’t have boundaries about talking about personal issues with their coworkers, such as family problems or relationship struggles. That can easily end up making another employee uncomfortable, make things unprofessional, and lead to tension. 

Because of this, it’s essential that employees have boundaries for the workplace. However, these boundaries can create the perception that work colleagues are not your friends. Again, this isn’t necessarily wrong, but it misses the point. Coworkers may not be friends, but you can still have strong professional relationships that make work more comfortable, safe, and enjoyable. Boundaries are a big part of making that distinction.

Boundaries can be the difference between an unprofessional work relationship and a professional one. A boundary such as sticking to handshakes instead of hugs for example can make it clear that it is a professional relationship, not an outside of work friendship. Boundaries enable you to have good relationships with your coworkers that don’t end up becoming too personal. 

On top of that, boundaries also help when it comes to trust in the workplace. If you and your coworkers have clear boundaries that you follow, you can trust that they will be professional. You don’t have to worry about them saying things they shouldn’t, getting too personal, or being unprofessional. 

why coworkers are not your friends

Competitiveness and Office Dynamics

Now, let’s look at office dynamics and things inherent to a workplace, such as competitiveness. Most workplaces are naturally competitive. It is simply a natural byproduct of a working environment. A competitive workplace isn’t automatically positive or negative though. It depends on how you, your coworkers, and leaders manage it. 

Competitive environments have advantages and disadvantages. Competition can encourage people to work harder, be more creative, and more productive. But it can also be at odds with creating an inclusive culture at work, forming relationships, and more.

Focusing on relationships specifically, competitiveness can be a big issue. If you’ve ever played a sport whether in high school, college, or a recreational league, you know how competitive people can get. It’s easy to get too into something and start being toxic or negative towards those around you. And in the case of a workplace environment, that means your coworkers. 

This can make it very difficult to form healthy and strong relationships. If someone is putting you down, gloating, or even sabotaging your work, it can make having a professional relationship near impossible. 

At the same time though, competition when handled correctly can increase the potential for collaboration and allow supportive relationships to flourish. Take a professional sports team for example. They are undeniably competitive, but it’s focused in the right places. They work together so they can all achieve their best. By uniting around their competitive nature, they can reach new heights and build even stronger relationships. The same is true for a workplace. 

Diverse Personalities and Interests

It’s also important to mention that people have different personalities, interests, and perspectives. No two people are the same, and those differences can hinder the formation of friendships and relationships. That’s why it’s so crucial to encourage open-mindedness in the workplace. 

Little differences may feel insignificant to many, but they can easily create problems around workplace relationships. Something as small as preferring to work in a quiet environment versus working in a loud and busy environment can create tension amongst employees, leading to difficulty bonding and forming strong relationships. 

However, much of this can be avoided by creating a welcoming environment that encourages diversity, acceptance, open-mindedness, and understanding. If your employees are understanding of differences, open to learning about new perspectives, and willing to try new things, it will make relationship building in the workplace much easier. 

It also can play a big role in employee happiness. Employees want to feel comfortable with their coworkers and have good relationships with them. By making it easier for employees to develop meaningful relationships with their coworkers, you also are helping their employee happiness—which can have numerous benefits such as increased productivity, improved communication, increased collaboration, and more.  

why coworkers are not your friends

Breaking the Barriers: Why Coworkers Are Not Your Friends

So, can coworkers be friends? Yes, but not in the same way you are friends with people outside of work. You can and should be friends with your coworkers. However, your boundaries and the nature of the friendship are going to be different because it’s a professional, work relationship. That said, let’s talk about some ways to bridge that gap and build meaningful and genuine professional friendships between coworkers. 

As mentioned earlier, boundaries are essential. Workers need to have boundaries so that they feel safe and comfortable with their working relationships. There are certain boundaries that can be set on a business-wide level, but certain boundaries will vary depending on the individual. You and your coworkers need to communicate clearly about those boundaries, that way they can be followed and you can avoid misunderstandings. 

Another way to build those friendships is by creating a supportive and inclusive work culture. That sort of culture can help bring people together, create more understanding, awareness, and ultimately foster friendships. Your employees should feel comfortable being themselves, voicing their opinions, and should feel supported. 

Investing in employees is also a great way to build friendships in the workplace. Team building exercises for example are a perfect opportunity to learn more about coworkers, collaborate, build comradery, and bond. 

Our Team PechaKucha is a fun and engaging way to improve communication and teamwork. Beat the Box is a series of escape room-style challenges where you and your team can improve your communication skills, get competitive, and build friendships. 

If you’re looking to help your team become closer, build friendships, and improve their skills, consider hosting some team building events. These events are not only beneficial, but they’re also fun and a great way to show employees you care by investing in their skill sets. 

Benefits of Strong Workplace Friendships

Before wrapping up, let’s talk about the benefits of workplace friendships. Why should you encourage them? What benefits are there for employees, and what benefits are there for business? Surprisingly, there are a lot more benefits than you might guess. 

According to a recent Gallup report, employees with a best friend at work are significantly more likely to be more engaged, more productive, more reliable, innovative, and collaborative. From a business perspective, those are huge benefits. You want your employees to be engaged, productive, and collaborative, so it’s worthwhile to encourage them to have workplace friendships. 

However, we all should be aware that not everything is numbers. Your employees, their happiness, and their mental health are important too. Happy employees are better employees as well, making it something you should prioritize. 

Unsurprisingly, workplace friendships play a big role in employee happiness and mental health. That same Gallup report also found that employees with workplace friends were also happy and more excited to come to work. 

Humans are social creatures, and we want to feel supported and cared about. If you don’t have friends in the workplace, feeling supported and cared about is going to be much less likely. Conversely, having workplace friends can provide employees with the support and care they need, allowing them to be the best versions of themselves possible. 

Help Your Employees Build Friendships

People have long thought that coworkers are not friends, but that isn’t completely true. Coworkers are not friends in the same way as your friends from out of work are, but having meaningful and professional friendships in the workplace is key to success. 

Friendships in the workplace can help employees feel supported and cared about, which can lead to increased productivity, engagement, happiness, collaboration, and much more. As a business, it’s important that you prioritize helping employees build friendships in the workplace.

To get started changing your work environment and culture to promote friendships, consider Team Bonding. We have a range of events and activities that are perfect for enacting change in the workplace and building strong bonds. So get in touch with us and help your employees build friendships in the workplace.

Anna Webber

Team Contributor


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