Bonding with colleagues is important when it comes to getting through the work day, whether it’s someone to share the 3pm coffee run with or to chat to over lunch.
If you’ve worked somewhere for a while, the chances are there is one person you’ve chosen as your so-called “work wife”.
A 2018 survey by the job site Comparably found that of more than 33,000 workers, 60% of women said they had a close friend at work.
On a basic level, it’s hard to build connections with your colleagues if you only stick to artificial small talk – something most of us try our very best to avoid at all costs.
We spend a huge amount of time in the workplace – up to 90,000 hours of our lives – so fostering positive relationships and having a good work environment is essential for our health and wellbeing.
Why female friendship is crucial
“Female friendships at work are great for offloading problems personal and within work,” says Claire*, who is 32 and works in design. “We routinely go for a pint on a Friday lunchtime to lay it all out. We always keep each other informed of any office news.”
But female friendship at work is more than just going for a drink to have a moan about your boss. The workplace doesn’t often favour women, so having someone to confide in about a problem, such as sexual harassment, is essential.
Women face barriers and discrimination on various levels at work. They are more likely to be penalised for their personalities and if they’re assertive, an attribute favoured in male managers, they’re called “bossy”. Women are asking for promotions just as often as men, but they still aren’t getting them. They’re also more likely to be judged on their size, appearance or clothing – and paid less if they’re overweight.
In these conditions, having a friend who can provide confidential support and advice – and importantly, someone who understands these issues first-hand – can help you overcome challenges.
How friendships can boost your career
Contrary to the belief that those with work friends are more likely to be distracted, women with friends at work are also more productive and report higher levels of job satisfaction. Research by Gallup found women who strongly agree they have a best friend at work are more than twice as likely to be engaged (63%) compared with the women who say otherwise (29%).
Having a work bestie and workplace connections can help you succeed too, according to a recent study by LinkedIn. Around 70% of professionals get hired at companies where they have a professional connection, and 60% say their friends at work will be helpful later in their career for sharing job opportunities or giving a referral.
We also live in a era where employees want their jobs to be more than just a source of income. The money is important, of course, but a good workplace culture and a feeling of belonging is something highly valued, too.
“Our research shows that women are developing other women (72%) vs. only 30% of men developing women,” says Allyson Zimmermann, executive director for Europe at Catalyst, a non-profit which specialises in empowering women in the workplace.
“I’m not sure why there is a cottage industry built around the belief that women do not support women, but our research shows that as women advance, they pull up women behind them.”
Dealing with jealousy and conflict
There are challenges associated with having friends at work and like any friendship, you have to work hard to maintain that relationship. It’s important to have some boundaries and to build up trust slowly, as you get to know someone. Conflict is always a risk, and it can be hard to put your opinion across firmly on an idea if you’re worried about upsetting a friend.
Jealousy can occur between any co-workers, regardless of what gender they are, particularly when money and power come into play. If one person is promoted and given a pay rise, for example, it can create tension.
Yet jealousy at work isn’t always a bad thing. A study conducted at the Tilberg Institute in the Netherlands found that jealousy could be very beneficial for people who were looking to change aspects of their lives.
The researchers found that in some cases, feelings of jealousy motivated participants to study more and inspired better performance when people felt self-improvement was on the cards.
Mentors and sponsors
And while work friendships matter, there are other types of important working relationships too, such as mentorships and sponsorships.
While mentors offer advice and a friendly ear, sponsors are usually at a high-level in an organisation and can push you forward for promotions, pay rises and new positions.
“Catalyst studies show that women don’t receive the sponsorship of highly influential individuals, which our research indicates is critical for advancement. Women are over-mentored and under-sponsored,” Zimmermann says.
“While mentors may be seen as career developers, sponsors are considered to be career accelerators.”