Why Everyone Needs a Work BFF

In the past 24 hours, two people have suggested I address the always tricky issue of office friendships. There is so much to say about this: Do we even want office BFFs? How do you take a workplace friendship to the next level? What happens when you don’t work together anymore—can the friendship survive? I think about this a lot because (aside from the fact that I think about all BFF-related issues a lot) the office is the grown-up version of the sandbox or summer camp. It’s the only natural breeding ground for friends once you’re out of school, and given the sheer number of hours Americans spend at the office each week, our coworkers are like family, for better or for worse.

So, for now, I’ll start with question one: Do we even want office friendships?

“Don’t mix business with pleasure” used to be the way of the world.  Companies discouraged employees from “fraternizing” (such business jargon)… God forbid their water cooler talk take away from the number crunching. These days, however, I think most office workers have at least one on-the-job BFF. There are plenty of reasons why this could be the case. Clearly, as the amount of time we spend in the office increases, our exposure to potential friends outside the workplace decreases. Worker bees today (or the ones aged, perhaps, 20-50) are so plugged in to social networks that the lines distinguishing work from life have blurred quite a bit. Plus, there are so many more distractions these days – Perez, YouTube, Facebook – that we need someone to turn to, like now, when the breaking news of Jon and Kate’s split hits People.com.

But here’s what’s really fascinating: According to Tom Rath’s Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without, people who report having a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their job. (This is based on more than 8 million responses to a Gallup poll about office friendships.) According to the book research, which was published in 2006, only 30% of employees reported having a work BFF, but those who didn’t basically had no chance of feeling engaged during the workday.

This is especially interesting to me because I have not one but four office BFFs. Ours is a merry little gang – we get lunch together everyday, gather around the coffeepot (me with Diet Coke in hand) every morning for TV recaps, and obnoxiously decorate cubicles when one of us gets married (I now sit in front of a life size High School Musical poster). I could—and likely will—write an entire ode to The Transformers (that’s what we call ourselves… a discussion for another time), as they are not just my work BFFs but probably my closest friends in Chicago. After all, I started at my office not long after I moved out here, so they are the people I know best and certainly the ones I spend the most time with. But does having four best friends at work mean I am 28 times more engaged in my job? Debatable.

Rath’s research does say that people with at least three close friends at work are 96% more likely to be extremely satisfied with their lives. It’s hard for me to say whether or not this applies to me, since I’ve never experienced my job without the work friends. But if someone were to ask me if I’m extremely satisfied with my life, the answer would be yes, BFF not withstanding. When this search is over and I have a new BFF or four, then I will be super-extremely satisfied.

15 Comments

Filed under BFFs and Work, The Hard Facts

15 responses to “Why Everyone Needs a Work BFF

  1. Beth

    Couldn’t agree more that work BFFs are crucial. They can be tricky and take lots of time to develop but are so worth it. Not only have I made fabulous friends from but also I’m now friends with my friends co-workers too (i.e. Book Club).

  2. Great post. And great question. I am no longer working in an office, but when I was working at a law firm, I had several good friends and one BFF in particular. Without these relationships, I think I would have been miserable. Adding a conversational and human component to our professional endeavors makes them infinitely more palatable.

    Fantastic blog! Thrilled to have found my way here🙂

  3. E

    Thank you, Rachel! Love this post (and the others), as did my three work friends.

  4. I think one of the few things I miss about a regular job is the work BFF or BFFs if you are lucky. There is something very powerful about sharing all those hours and experiences together.

  5. Callie

    I guess with work in particular I would distinguish between BFFs and just Fs. I work in a tiny office of 7 women. Thank goodness I get along with all of them and I would consider most of them my friends which makes going to work MUCH more bearable. But, none of them really cross into the realm of Best Friends Forever…Also, especially in a small office like mine, lines can get blurred and it can be really difficult to manage the Friend scenario when you are also someone’s boss, or if they are your boss. That always makes things a little more complicated!

  6. Jill

    Hi Rachel,
    (I’m actually in one of the book clubs you mentioned.) In some ways switching jobs helps create new non-work BFFs. Work BFFs deal with office politics and you are drawn together by circumstances. But there is sometimes still some competition involved in careers (at least in my field), not to mention that the workplace isn’t the best place to air all your dirty laundry, that doesn’t allow work-BFFs to be completely open with each other. Besides, you spend all your daytime hours with these folks, so you may want a little variety in your life. But, sometimes these friendships really bloom when one or both of you move on to a different job. Then you can become regular friends. When I first moved here, I really looked forward to that–or at least took solace in that when one of us moved on.

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  10. Christine

    I completely agree that it’s so important to have people at work you’re friends with. I went from working in a very small office where my main enjoyment was my one co-worker, and our daily adventures. Then I moved across country to NYC, and work in a bigger office, but with no one who helps get me through the day – well almost no one. I started dating my coworker (I know, I know, but it’s worked out for a year and 3 months so far…) and while it’s great 85% of the time, he has had difficulty understanding why I need to befriend people at this job.

    Let me also include that I’m not exactly happy at this job. We decided to keep our relationship quite, as we work in a smaller segment of the whole, but for me this means not being able to talk about a major part of my life (him) with work friends. Girls being girls, we like to talk boys/relationships, so to have this all pretty much off limits has really made me feed cut off from making closer friends here.

    One night at happy hour in which I had no less than 4 French martinis, I blabbed to another coworker who had become a common work friend of his and mine, so I figured the secret would be safe with her. And it has been. No drama, no one else has found out (unless I had more to drink). While it was like a weight lifted off my chest to have someone to talk to about him/my relationship, it did seem to make their friendship suffer. We’re still not as close as I have been with other coworker friends, but I consider it a work in progress.

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