Lifestyle

The benefits of bonding with a ‘bestie’ at work


Those with close friends at the workplace experience lower levels of stress and burnout and are more motivated to go the extra mile



Mumbai’s Suhana Prasad doesn’t enjoy work the day her “work bestie” is on leave. “I have been working with the same company for over a decade now, and honestly, it’s my work bestie who has made it worth the while,” says the 36-year-old sales professional. “Especially during the pandemic, when it was a struggle to manage stress levels. We were ranting virtually about work and life. It wasn’t the same, but at least we knew we had each other’s support.”

Friendships in the office are often overlooked. When you work in a high-stress environment, where a big part of the job involves going through hundreds of documents, answering emails, holding and attending meetings, having someone to rant with, roll eyes or share a quick laugh with, can make life a little more bearable. Think Meredith and Cristina in Grey’s Anatomy or Sutton, Kat and Jane in The Bold Type—they may be fictional characters but their relevance extends far beyond reel life.

Research, too, shows that having a “work spouse” or an “office bestie”, essentially someone with whom you share a high level of trust, loyalty, and respect, can have a positive impact on performance in the office. And it makes sense if you consider that an average person spends over 80,000 hours at work, equivalent to more than nine years.

A 2022 report, The Increasing Importance Of A Best Friend At Work, from workplace consulting and global research firm Gallup states: “Best friends at work drive outcomes because they’re more than a social connection or good relationship. The importance of work friends is having someone you can rely on through thick and thin. Someone who has your back and genuinely cares. These authentic friendships deepen employees’ sense of ownership for their work and enable employees to be more effective and sustainable, regardless of where or when they work.”

Vikas Suri, the chief executive offer (CEO) and founder of Delhi-based gourmet popcorn brand Popcorn & Company, agrees. When he joined fast-food chain Wimpy as a group product manager in 1996, he struggled to find his place in the company. As he began working, he formed close friendships with colleagues, finding the support and encouragement required to excel in his role. “My seniors and work friends provided valuable mentorship, shared industry insights, and offered emotional support during challenging projects, which went on to enhance my job satisfaction and productivity,” he recalls.

Beyond the office

Having a close friend at work can also motivate people to go the extra mile in getting projects done, says Arun Vasudevan, co-founder and CEO of MaxPetZ hospitals and clinics. He explains his point with an instance, when he and his team worked tirelessly for consecutive days, reaching a point of exhaustion. “The only reason we managed to persevere and complete the task at hand was because of the support and collaboration offered by colleagues,” he recalls.“The sense of accomplishment and joy was palpable when we finally completed the project. We even started to plan a holiday together to celebrate this moment.”

Besides support and motivation, meaningful connections at work can also improve health and well-being. According to 2022 research by BetterUp, a global coaching platform, those with workplace friends experience less loneliness, stress, and burnout—a pattern that was 32 times stronger in workers with more friends.

“It’s been close to two decades since I left my last job. But even today, I strongly believe that workplace friendships help with mental health, as people can share their problems with each other due to a greater degree of familiarity and common understanding developed over a period of time,” says Kumaar Bagrodia, founder of NeuroLeap, an applied neuroscience company.

Competition hurts

Making friends, especially at a competitive place like the office, doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Some, in fact, perceive competition to be a deterrent in making close friendships at work.

According to a research piece in MIT Sloan Management Review titled Are Your Team Members Lonely?, 76% of executives among the 223 surveyed globally between December 2019 and January 2020, said they had difficulty making connections with their work teammates, It was found that the “composition, duration, and staffing of teams can trigger or exacerbate feelings of social disconnection in the workplace.”

Ajay Shetty, founder of Bengaluru-based ready-to-drink and craft spirits brand Salud, believes it is essential to acknowledge that industry growth, company expansion, and achieving business goals thrive on the foundation of camaraderie. “We’ve even cultivated friendships with our competitors, driven by a shared desire to learn and grow. At its core, it is about nurturing a sense of community to build a business and recognising that success isn’t a solo venture,” says Shetty.

One of the most impactful practices they have implemented at Salud is to organise frequent travel and brainstorming sessions. “Teams of all sizes regularly travel, both for work-related purposes and for dedicated strategy sessions, at least once every two months. These focused conversations allow for deeper engagement and foster collaboration. Beyond organised gatherings, we actively encourage informal interaction through weekly team lunches and drinks. This helps colleagues connect on a personal level, builds friendships, and infuses a sense of camaraderie,” adds Shetty.

Sahil Aggarwal, chief executive officer and co-founder of Rishihood University in Sonipat, Haryana, on the other hand, believes that genuine work friendships can happen even amid competition. As someone who does not consider work and life as distinct zones, he is of the view that work enriches the meaning of life—which is further enhanced by having deep friendships at work.

“I have built my organisation for the last nine years with a co-founder, with whom I have developed a close friendship. I have partnered professionally with organisations that my friends are leading. I believe there is an ease of work if we are working with friends,” he adds.

There is no denying that complexity can creep into work-based friendships, particularly if one climbs the ladder while the other doesn’t succeed as much. The differences in power may be tricky terrain to navigate. For others, they may find relationships at work rather superficial to invest in.

Diverse perspectives can lead to differences between workmates, spilling into tasks that can negatively impact your productivity, says Nirajita Banerjee, LinkedIn career expert. “Setting boundaries on the topics that you are comfortable to discuss and those where you want to draw the line, can help build a sustained relationship at work with your co-workers. Being more intentional and using clear language such as ‘I am providing this feedback on work performance’ can help,” she suggests.

Not everyone may like to put their energies into a work friendship, though. Isha Sahay, a Noida-based independent career coach, suggests that in that case, organisations must step up their game to create systems and workflows that can encourage their employees to develop real connections at work. Banerjee reiterates, “Being more active about participating in work events such as happy hours and team building activities can help employees spend time with their co-workers in a more informal setting.”

Having one genuine “work bestie” instead of several superficial relationships, makes navigating a world as busy and tough as today’s workplace easier, more fun, and enriching.

Geetika Sachdev is a writer and journalist.

 

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