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 organisation 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 favour 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.
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 empathise 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 workplace blogger who is committed to changing the world by helping as many people as possible to enjoy their work. You can find him on his blog, Cubepiphany (pronounced kyoob-pif-un-nee), working passionately on his personal mission to rid the world of all of the things that make your job and your life less than epic.
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