That led to a poll around our table of five to see who regarded their colleagues as friends. Split three to two, the results were divided, with most in favour of saying “no”. To the three, this meant only connecting with colleagues on LinkedIn but not on Facebook, Instagram or TikTok.
Social media friendships are hardly the indicator of deep meaningful relationships but the reluctance signalled a few things, including a lack of willingness to connect on a personal level and reveal too much about one’s personal life. “I want to be known first and foremost for my good work, and sometimes giving too much insight into my personal life can cloud another’s judgement or unknowingly make an impression that I don’t want to,” said one friend.
This is notwithstanding that The Good Life: Lessons From The World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness, by psychiatrist Robert Waldinger and psychologist Marc Schulz, which draws on more than 80 years of data, suggest that the connections people have at work are critical. In fact, the happiest man in the study never achieved his dream of becoming a writer but became a teacher due to family circumstances, and the relationships with his students and colleagues made him so happy that he turned down several promotions. A study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Minnesota also found that close friendships increased workplace productivity, as friends are more committed, communicate better, and encourage each other.
Perhaps it had to do with what we prioritise at work, the industries we’re in, and company culture. I’ve found that in my past experiences as a magazine journalist, it’s precisely having a strong sense of camaraderie and being open to discussions with my colleagues that have enabled us to pitch and strengthen story ideas. (Not going to lie, sometimes it does feel like we’re mining our personal lives for stories.) I am also someone who values diversity of thought, whether when problem-solving or coming up with ideas. This requires vulnerability to a certain extent, but it does elevate the quality of our work and makes us feel closer as a team.
“I have been lucky to have many former colleagues who I consider to be my close friends, even ten years from our first meeting,” says Cleo*, 34, who has worked in the media industry for a decade. “I have had many lunch conversations with colleagues where we freely chatted about our dating app dilemmas, conflicts with parents, and our hopes and dreams for the future. I don’t see these as an issue because they do not hinder our job performance – I would draw a line on anything that does!”
27-year-old Erin* who works in fintech says she wouldn’t hide the fact that she has a life outside of work, be it in conversations or on social media, because she thinks it should be considered a good thing. But she can imagine someone else feeling more self-conscious if they are slipping up at work and don’t want to make it apparent that they are prioritising other aspects of their lives.