A Case for Friendships at Work

I’m on a highly social European vacation. Much of my socializing is happening with friends I made through work.

I find myself remembering a series of essays in The New York Times on the nature of friendship. On April 18, 2021, the Times’ Style Magazine published a Culture Issue titled “With Friends.” An entire issue devoted to friendships. All sorts of friendships.

The mini-articles were quirkily titled and coalesced into a marvelous glossary of the many reasons for friendship. Friends Who Cook Together. Friends Who Summer Together. Friends Who Share a Language. Friends Who Party Together. Friends Who Came Up Together. Friends Who Saw It All.

IntrIgued? I found myself thinking of the different friendships in my life. Past, present. Lasting, fleeting. And the extraordinary impact that these friendships have had in and on my life. I found myself fixating, most especially, on the friendships we forge through work.

  • Clients Who Became Friends
  • Mentor/Protegee Friends
  • Friends Who Create Together
  • Work Friends

"Friendship isn’t a big thing – it’s a million little things..”  ~ Paulo Coelho

More categories from the New York Times Magazine. As I devoured these mini-articles, I thought of the advice many of us were given about relationships at work: You’re not here to make friends. Don’t bring your personal stuff to work. Keep things professional. Make sure to separate professional and personal.

Insanity. Utter Insanity.

What animates this antiquated “keep it professional, please” mindset? Especially when all evidence shows that as we move into positions of power, we’re more likely to hire someone we have worked with in the past, someone we know well, someone whose expertise we trust, someone with whom we have developed a deeply personal relationship. A friend.

Behind all these well-worn “friendship warnings,” I am convinced, lies the fear of things getting messy. A little “too real.” Too human. And the fear that we might not be able to handle that.

Hogwash. Life sometimes gets messy. You can handle it.

Let us deconstruct some of the myths behind the “making friends at work” warnings.