Making Friends at Work: The Unwritten Rules

How to Make Friends at Work: The unwritten rules

4 min read

Our social circles often decrease in size as we age, we seemingly outgrow relationships and the rate of replacement is no longer as fast or efficient. I have come to realize that my own relationship dynamics shift in relation to my professional milestones. As we make the move from school to workplace, our friend circle changes from classmates to colleagues. However, along with this comes questions about how to navigate tricky social situations. How easy is it to make friends at work and keep these friendships alive?


After graduating, my first experience in the workplace admittedly gave me a bit of a culture shock. I was in a new space with a number of formalities that were guiding how I could interact with others. As I attempted to navigate new social connections in an unfamiliar environment, it was very challenging to maintain the emotionless facade I felt expected of me in order to look more professional.

Suddenly I found myself spending more and more time with my new workmates, and less and less time with my university friends. As weeks went by, the realization that I had not yet made any truly genuine connections at work, made my time in the office seemingly drag on endlessly. On average, people spend close to a third of their adult lives at work, so consequentially you end up spending a lot of time with those you work with, so you better as hell like them or find a new job! In today's society, work friendship have become extremely complex due to workplace hierarchies, cliques, favoritism, and the forever blurry lines between friend and co-worker.


While the workplace can breed competition and sometimes not-so-nice office politics, friendships can and do begin to thrive. In my professional journey to achieve the career I’ve always wanted, I never imagined myself working just as hard to maintain friendships as I do to move forward with my career. After three years at the ad agency where I currently work, I can now successfully state that I have made a genuine friend at work. But why did it take so long?


Working toward the same professional goal can unite people Photo by Petty Grone
Working toward the same professional goal can unite people. Photo by Petty Grone


Work friendships are complicated, and require balance and self-awareness. In a formal workplace environment, there is a subtle gap between being open with others and being too open, and you never want the latter! Oversharing can tarnish your reputation and lead to mistrust and workplace gossip. Trust me, I learned the hard way! However, I bounced back and was able to learn how to share just enough information to seem open to new friendships, but not so much that I became too vulnerable.


Friendships often happen because two or more people relate to each other due to shared experiences. Working at the same job can become that shared experience, as long as you understand the unspoken rules. For instance, I know that the CEO of my company has to initiate a friendship, the other way around just becomes too risky. While it’s easiest to become friends with those on your work level, those employees may not be the ones you directly relate to. You must negotiate between ranking, personality, and workplace etiquette until you find the proper combination where people feel equal within the friendship, even if not within other contexts. It will be interesting to see what happens when one of my friends at work with a similar ranking, suddenly gets promoted, and if that will follow over into the dynamic of our friendship.


While friendship at work is complex, healthy friendships in the workplace can promote a better sense of well-being and increase productivity. In fact, a Gallup Poll about workplace friendships shows that those who have a best friend at work are 43% more likely to receive praise for their performance. As long as we can make our way through the complexities of friendship at the workplace by being patient, open-minded and self-aware, workplace friendships are a great addition to your ever-growing (and dwindling) social circle as an adult in the real world.


Bryan, Work Buddy Enthusiast

Bryan Kariuki
Bryan Onyango Kariuki
Believer, Marketer, World Citizen.
Life is full possibilities if you are open to it.