Briefings Magazine

Work Friends: Come Back!

At work, true friendships are rare.

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By: Jonathan Dahl, Chief Content Officer

Lightning strikes maybe once, maybe twice

Oh and it lights up the night

—Fleetwood Mac

We started becoming friends when we’d meet in the hallway to complain about our tyrannical boss. It wasn’t long before we were plotting an insurrection on the level of a D-Day invasion, only here we’d storm into his office with a few of our colleagues and a lame petition citing our grievances.

There is one very good friend I met at work years ago who speaks to me daily. And I mean daily. He’ll typically call just as he’s walking into the office in New York, slightly out of breath, lecturing me about how working from home isn’t really “working.” There’s another former work friend who never texts or calls, and we might even go dark for a year or two. But when I happen to be in New York, he never fails to find time in his calendar for dinner. And we have such a good time.

I once helped another friend negotiate a job that paid double my own salary. I spent the whole time wondering how he could possibly make so much more money than I do—when I’m so much brighter, work harder, and so on. I never said anything, but I notice we haven’t talked quite as much since.

I’m told that Fleetwood Mac’s “Gypsy” has a line about the rarity of friendship—lightning strikes maybe once, maybe twice. At work, true friendships are even rarer. Even so, it was disturbing to see in our cover story that only two in 10 people say they have a work friend. I can’t imagine how I’d have gotten by without my work friends, who put up with all my whining and stopped me from making one bad career move after another. (And not one of them ever said “I told you so”—a claim I could never make about myself.)

The decline of work friendships has been blamed on the remote-work era. I can understand that, but I’ve noticed I’ve made some of my best work friends after meeting them in person only once or twice. In the office, it’s all too easy to become a pest, showing up at a friend’s desk all the time with the latest gossip. Better to simply text them all the good dirt, to read when they’re free, from your home office.

I applaud the corporate leaders who say they’re troubled by the sad state of work friendships, and by the damage it does to corporate culture. Not long ago, I interviewed a CEO who said it just broke his heart to see people alone in the cafeteria, and I believed him. But trying to create an environment that fosters these relationships seems almost impossible to me. Most work friendships I know about happened so randomly—certainly not because of any planned corporate event.

It may be that leaders will have to accept that they can’t ensure that staffers will become friends. Quite simply, you can’t make lightning strike.


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