5 Tips for Making Friends at Work

Loneliness has already been labeled an epidemic, and the upcoming holiday season presents risks of further isolation. How to build work friendships.

One employee is new to the company and knows only a few people. Another has been at the same firm for ten years—and also knows scarcely any coworkers.

The US Surgeon General has declared that loneliness is a serious hazard to people’s health—and it’s growing at the workplace. The hybrid-work culture is partly responsible—it’s hard to make friends when people come in on different days—as is a tough economy that’s adding to people’s stress and their capacity to be friendly.

In fact, only two in ten workers in the US say they have a best friend at work. Globally, that number is only three in ten. “It has become increasingly difficult to make meaningful friendships or even retain existing friendships at work,” says Valerie Olson, a Korn Ferry Advance career coach. “We are being more friendly to each other, but we aren’t making friends.”

With the approach of the holidays, often a time of increased loneliness, experts say workers should strive to build friendships. But how?

Listen, listen, listen.

Make time to listen to your colleagues, says Olson. Show genuine interest in what they have to say. Once you establish rapport and build trust, she says, “conversations often become more meaningful, and relationships become more supportive.” If you work on-site, be open to grabbing coffee or lunch with a colleague. Similarly, if you work remotely, being available to hop on a Zoom and lend an ear is a natural way to make friends.

Celebrate successes.

The holidays are a time to reflect on and celebrate the accomplishments of the year—whether there’s a party or not. Reach out to compliment team members and colleagues on a project or invite them to collaborate in the new year. “Showing admiration and respect goes a long way,” says Olson.

Use technology to find friendship seeds.

Internal chat groups, employee forums, and social-networking platforms like LinkedIn are all great ways to find colleagues with shared interests, says Stacey Perkins, a Korn Ferry Advance career coach. Posting a question or a comment about an article you both read—or striking up a conversation when you discover in a chat that one of your colleagues is a triathlete—can be a great way to break the ice virtually and get to know someone, says Perkins.

Seek out your people.

Every organization has clubs and groups employees can join based on their interests. And in the hybrid world, more and more organizations are hosting wellness days, as well as themed special events for employees. “Don’t underestimate the power of these activities in building connections,” says Perkins. In fact, one of the biggest benefits of employee groups is that they can bring together colleagues from disparate parts of the organization, fostering relationships based on shared interests rather than work.

Give it time.

You and your coworkers aren’t going to become best friends overnight, of course. Moreover, some people prefer to simply do their jobs and go home. Don’t force the issue, says Olson. “Each person has their own motivations and perspectives around work friendships,” she says. “Organizations can nurture friendliness, but it’s up to individuals to build friendships.”


For more expert career advice, connect with a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance.