business trap

The Workplace Myth That Could Kill Your Career

The workplace is full of silly myths that have somehow found a way to withstand the test of time. You’ve probably heard of some of them before:

“It’s all about who you know.” (Reality: it’s all about who likes you and who respects you.)

“The customer is always right.” (Reality: no one is always right, including customers.)

And worst of all: “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 through their polls, they discovered a real link between workplace friendships and overall business results. Gallup interviews also found 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 as well as tequila and strawberry milk.

Usually, that’s because the people who are in the “I’m not here to make friends” crowd 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 deepest, innermost personal secrets with your coworkers. It also doesn’t mean having someone at work who you can slack off with by watching YouTube videos all day and taking extended lunches. And a work friend isn’t someone who will cover for you while you take a nap in an empty storage room.

Having friends at work is all about three simple but incredibly important things: staying productive, staying happy and staying sane.

Even more significant is the fact that failing to do those three things could eventually kill your career. To understand why, let’s take a closer look at why it’s so important to make friends at work:

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 coworker, and it’s during those times that having friends is critical—especially if you want to be as productive as possible.

Friends are there to put their own work on hold to help you pull together the presentation for tomorrow’s department meeting. Friends stay late to help you with the quarterly budget report because you’re terrible with Microsoft Excel. Friends will cover for you and take on some of your work while you’re laid up at home with a brutal flu bug. Friends always have your back when the going gets tough.

Wait, I know what you’re thinking.

No, you don’t have to be a friend to do those things for a coworker—in fact, you may even be forced to do those things for a coworker who you can’t stand. But if you’re interested in lasting career success, you don’t want to be the guy/gal on the team who people work with and help out because they have no other choice. You want people to work with you and help you because they want to do it. There’s an important difference there.

Working well with others in a team setting is a critical workplace skill, and if you want to get the best from others when they are working with you, it helps if they genuinely like you and want to work with you.

On the other hand, having coworkers who don’t want to work with you or help you can be absolutely devastating to your career, forcing you to take steps back instead of forward.

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 122,400 hours are spent with people whose company you actually enjoy? I hope so.

No one likes to work in a joyless job. I don’t, you don’t and no one you know does, either.

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 spending those 122,400 hours at work and away from your loved ones. It’s nice to work with amazing people who can make Mondays feel like Saturdays.

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 for everyone.

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.

So, chew on this for a moment: not having genuine friendships at work could not only kill your career by making you less engaged in your work, but it could also literally kill you sooner than necessary.

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

Remember those 122,400 hours you’ll spend at work in your lifetime? Sadly, there is little doubt that a good chunk of those hours will be spent working alongside people who drive you crazy.

You may be stuck sharing a cubicle wall with a coworker from hell, or worse, you may have to report to an insufferable bully 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-workplace friends about your workplace issues is cool, but since they’re not in the trenches with you to experience the insanity for themselves, it will be harder for them to truly empathize like a friendly coworker can. Without a friend at work to share your frustrations with, your workplace challenges may end up getting the best of you and start having a negative effect on your attitude, both inside and outside of work.

The negative effects of stress in the workplace are scary, but fortunately, talking with friends at work who 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 should never be an option.

Unless you want to slowly kill your career, that is—and none of us wants that happen. I want you to enjoy your career to the fullest and to feel sincerely happy at work. That’s what friends are for.

Shola Richards is a corporate trainer, incurable optimist and writer who is committed to changing the world by helping as many people as possible to live and work with more positivity. You can find him on his blog, The Positivity Solution, working passionately on his personal mission to rid the world of all of the things that make your life less than epic.


    • This is a great read Shola. What you write about at the core and what I tell people in my seminars is that people and relationships go hand in hand. The root of what you are talking about is being connected to each other as human beings. No one can survive on an island of one. No one. Building and maintaining relationships is vital to our very existence. No matter the race or social class, we have as humans always been a part of a community. Thank you for sharing!

  1. Great article and I totally agree. I have met some great friends at work and they still continue to be my friend even after I have left that workplace. It is definitely invaluable and makes a difference. Good points.

  2. This is really food for thought. I used to this having friends at work will give me the reputation of being too social and not serious but you have really good points. I will marinate on your perspective and try to take your advice. Who knows maybe it will lead to a promotion.

  3. Great article Shola and right on, for the last 10 years I have had the privilege to work with some of my closest friends, this has been very intentional. I only hope I have the opportunity to continue to do so for many more years more.

  4. “Friends Make Mondays Feel Like Saturdays”… I love this! Some of my best friends are from work. It’s nice to go out with them AFTER work too, for drinks or pool or whatever and talk (rant?) about our bad days and our bad customers 😉 It’s a nice support system.

  5. Spectacular, as always! I think there is a fine line, though, when having friends at work. When someone is the boss, as I am, I can certainly build strong relationships, but I would not necessarily go to those people with my most recent heartbreak. kwim?

  6. Great article. Worked on Wall Street for 8 years. This should be required reading in all training programs… especially this –> “It’s all about who you know.” (Reality: it’s all about who likes you and who respects you.)

  7. I agree, in fact I would take it a step further and say that it is also good to be friends with your boss and/or direct reports. There is this belief that you should never share anything personal with the people that work for you, however as you said if people like you they are willing to help you. Without employees that will help you will not be a successful manager.

  8. First of all, NOTHING goes well with strawberry milk. Particularly taste buds.

    As a bit of a social economics geek, it is great for me to see a cultural shift in American workplace toward paying attention to something microeconomists have been talking about for decades: Utility (or, happiness). Miserable people make really poor employees.

    Look at the emergence of the term “Karoshi” in Japan. There is more to life than working your fingers to the bone in misery, and developing friendships is just as healthy at the workplace as it is outside the workplace.

    Well written article Shola. Keep them coming!

  9. Well put Shola,

    A lot of us spend the majority of our wakened hours with co-workers rather than family. It would be miserable to spend than time in perpetual conflict. #gottalikethemGuys/Gals

  10. I’ve seen a lot of articles about the connection between engagement and having friends at work, but this is the first I’ve seen that explains what it means to be a friend at work. This is a helpful guide for how to interact with colleagues, and for managers to understand how their staff should be interacting.

  11. Articles just like this should be mandatory reading before hiring a new employee and also mandatory reading for current employees. If more people actually behaved like this with coworkers, work places would be far more efficient and tolerable. To me it seems like common sense, but I have worked with plenty of people who only look out for themselves. Doing that doesn’t allow anyone to feel good. Shola this is well written and highly effective. I hope this article gets wide spread exposure and people follow through with what they read.

    • I agree with you that some people are just pills. But something else goes on in workplaces, I think. They are artificial cultural environments that often don’t have a place for the spectrum of perfectly reasonable behavior. An illustrative example: I worked at a nonprofit where most of the “successful” and well-liked managers did not delegate well. People basically did things “the way we’ve always done things around here” and managers simply praised or punished and did their own set of rote tasks. There were three former employees who had gone on to leadership positions in the field – thought leadership, entrepreneurship, and another nonprofit organization. I was surprised to hear that my coworkers labeled all of these people “LAZY.” Because their idea of “not-lazy” was doing work oneself. As for as they were concerned, delegation = not doing your own work. The blanket instruction to “get along” doesn’t account for the problem of the way workplaces can become distorted, closed cultures.

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  16. NopeNope

    If you really believe the people you work with are in any way, shape, or form your friends, you are fooling yourself, and the consequences of your belief will drastically impact your career.
    Do you meet any of these people after work? Have you been to their houses, met their spouses, gone bowling or played tennis or anything like that? Would you lend them money? Do you know how much they make, what their last raise was, and what they *really* think of the boss? No? Then they’re not your friends. They’re people you work with, people who you are competing with for raises and promotions and the position of last man standing when the hatchet falls. Have lunch with them, be friendly, but remember that the work world is a shark tank.

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  19. Frustrated

    Really? I’m looking for a 2nd job where I don’t have to make friends. My goal isn’t to stay here – I don’t want to build a life where I currently live and forming friends in this area would keep me from my dream and goal. I’m also keeping my part time job once I get a full time job and won’t have time for hanging out after work (thank goodness). Who would want to do that? I just want to earn experience to get me out of my current situation. Can’t I just do that?

    But would keeping my part time job I have now hurt me in an interview? Employers ask about it and I say, “they’re like family at that job, but it’s part time and I’m looking for experience in this field. The part time job is flexible and would be a weekend job.” (And one weeknight.)

  20. anoynomous

    Maybe in a white collar environment it works. Tried it in the ironworkers union, after get stabbed in the back a few times you’ll not want to make friends at work anymore. Lesson learned for me.

  21. anonymous

    Interesting article, but people need to ttake into account one anonymous commenter’s above after being stabbed in the back after trying to make friends and offer the best.

    How can one automatically and truly make others want to be genuine, caring friends still after being the best as encountering any 2-faced, fake or fair weather friends who unprofessionally gossip, create drama, use for own benefit, backbite or compete are the worst curse and unacceptable period. As unfortunate is when you go out of your way genuinely for someone and this person is genuine friends with others, but not you as hurtful and taken personally.

    It is questioned where truly is the law of karma when you sincerely are good to certain others and they give back coldness, indifference, exclusion or any bad or don’t smile back at you for no reason. Wish any illogical one-sidedness was never tolerated.

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