Here’s why your colleagues can be better than your friends

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By Z. Guler-Tuck, Espresso

You clock in and clock out of your job each day, spending 40 hours or more per week with people from all walks of life. While some would caution against being besties with your coworkers, others believe making friends at work can lead to increased productivity, job satisfaction, and performance. From professional development to personal growth, stress management to extracurricular activities, our coworkers can be there for us in more ways than one. At times, they can even stand in for loved ones.

When work stress hits, coworkers and colleagues can help you through these challenges in real time. Stress levels, for instance, can be exacerbated by the uncertainty caused by a crisis, like the current coronavirus pandemic. While grateful for sustained employment, we may turn to our workplace relationships for the on-demand support and fortitude we need to navigate these extraordinary circumstances. Click through this gallery to discover the benefits of building and maintaining strong bonds with your coworkers and the ways in which your colleagues may be better than your friends.


Reliable confidant

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Regardless of your relationship status, there are benefits to having a platonic work spouse. “Most of us are spending much more time at work than we are with our [outside] friends and family,” says a registered psychologist. Work spouses can infuse healthy banter, lighthearted conversation, and a bit of fun into your day, and when it comes to managing job stress, having someone you trust in your corner can help get you through the ups and downs of the daily grind.


Sense of belonging

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You work with people from all stages of life. How do you fit in so that you can make the “dream work"? Getting to know your colleagues and feeling like part of the team can give you the confidence and courage you need to tackle the challenges that come your way. A sense of belonging and fellowship doesn’t just make you a more engaged, loyal employee, companies that celebrate diversity and inclusion in the workplace, especially gender diversity, yield better financial results. That sense of belonging you crave and appreciate is literally good for business.


Conflict resolution

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You can’t ghost a colleague, nor can you simply cut them out of your life. When you’re faced with personality differences, stress, and poor communication, your HR department can offer some support, but it’s ultimately up to you to strategically manage these conflicts so that you can continue to do your job. Listen, be transparent and compassionate. Hearing your colleagues’ points of view can go far and even lead to improved collaboration and a trusted ally for future projects.


Support system

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Prioritizing your mental well-being in the workplace can impact your job satisfaction, career development, and overall happiness, so building a morale-boosting support system at work is crucial.

"Connecting with people boosts our mood and our morale, and friendships provide us with the emotional and psychological strength to deal with whatever comes our way — whether an exciting opportunity, a challenge or a crisis," says Annie McKee, author of How to Be Happy at Work: The Power of Purpose, Hope, and Friendship. A good way to check in with your coworkers is by scheduling a weekly Zoom call during your coffee break.


Avoid isolation

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Some find that working from home comes with privileges like better work-life balance and increased productivity. For others, however, especially those who suffer from mental illness, remote working conditions can lead to isolation. If you know a colleague who is struggling with feelings of isolation, invite them on a virtual coffee date or send them an ecard letting them know you’re here to listen. If their behaviour becomes more erratic and you become concerned about their safety, don't hesitate to reach out to HR.


Practice soft skills

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You’ve done the training and picked up many hard skills on the job, but what about soft skills? One study finds that soft skills could give you a leg up in a job market threatened by artificial intelligence and automation. Enter your trusted colleagues and coworkers. Picking up soft skills like complex communication, empathy, leadership, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity from your teammates can increase your value and further your career.


Reliable word of mouth

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You may need help choosing appropriate spring outfits for work, or perhaps you’re looking for the best childcare options near your office. If scouring the internet for reviews sounds too overwhelming, chances are a colleague has done the research and is willing to share their findings. Solicit suggestions from your colleagues, especially if your questions relate to work. Crowdsourcing advice from your coworkers can strengthen team comradery and help you make educated decisions on the spot.


Parenting advice

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Under regular working conditions, many parents struggle to balance their parenting duties with their job responsibilities. When school closures began across the globe due to COVID-19, many parents who were able to work from home faced the extra challenge of balancing work and home life during a crisis. Fellow parents at work can support each other by sharing parenting advice and homeschooling tips, commiserating with each other about job-specific challenges, and creating a community of working parents they can turn to.


Mentorship

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It’s up to you, and only you, to define and follow your own career path. However, you don’t have to go it alone. The benefits of finding a mentor who will provide you with the feedback, advice, and support you need is essential for career growth, and there’s no better place to seek this person out than in your company. Align yourself with someone who is on the career track you are hoping to pursue.


Ultimate plus one

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If you’re an introvert, socializing may not come as easily as it would to an extrovert. If you’re not feeling the company holiday party or spring retreat, but you know you should go, ask one of your coworkers to be your plus-one to make it more bearable. Showing up demonstrates that you care and that you’re a team player. These events are good networking opportunities, and who knows, you might have a bit of fun!


Blow off steam.

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Your coworkers know how your boss can get. They know about your challenging projects, grievances, and the workplace dynamic. You don’t want to explain that to an outsider when you just need to vent. Just remember to maintain your boundaries.

“You can vent all you want, but nothing is actually going to get better unless you also come up with solutions” says Katie Douthwaite in a Forbes article. When blowing off steam, avoid spiralling into negativity. Solicit solutions from your colleagues, be mindful of their time, then get back to work.


Healthy distraction

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You sometimes need a break during an especially busy day. During this social distancing period, you may have resorted to bothering your spouse or roommate working in the next room. If you were at the office, you’d usually head to the water cooler or lunchroom for a break. Perhaps you'd chat with a colleague about sports stats or last night’s Masked Singer. These tiny distractions and casual conversations can break the ice while contributing to a healthy corporate culture. Just try to avoid annoying conversations about politics, divorce, and your fellow coworkers.


Baggage-free compassion

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While they may have already met your partner, kid, or roommate, your coworkers probably aren't acquainted with your in-laws, estranged brother, or annoying cousin who always comments on your weight at family gatherings, and that can be a good thing. In many ways, colleagues are a blank slate and can offer a safe space and fresh perspectives on the issues you are facing with relatives and friends.


Champions and cheerleaders

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You’re a motivated, talented worker, and a reliable team player. On days when it feels like imposter syndrome is holding you back, your coworkers can provide the motivational pep talk you need to refresh and reset your mindset. They know what the hard days look like and can be there to raise you up and help you succeed.


Self-awareness

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Do you get defensive when your boss offers constructive criticism? Are you an over-sharer? Maybe you’re guilty of micromanaging your team. Being self-aware and mindful of how others see you can give you an edge in the workplace. Ask a trusted colleague for honest feedback, listen carefully, then assess how you’ll play to your strengths and improve your weaknesses.


Go-to personal trainer

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Maybe you're feeling especially lethargic about the state of the world, but know how important physical activity is for your body and mind. If your coworker mentions she’s taking a break to walk the dog, or she asks you to join a live exercise class with her at lunch, this could be the motivation you need to get up and get active.


Two words: happy hour

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When skipping out at exactly 5 p.m. or at the end of your shift for a nightcap, you’ve got someone to tag along. Social distancing has inspired some of us to get creative with happy hour, but it can still deliver the wind-down you need after a hectic work day.


Great connections

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They’ve seen your work, can vouch for you, introduce you to their network, and be a professional reference if you’re looking to start a creative side hustle. Keeping up relationships with current and former colleagues can help you get ahead in your career. Why not ask them for a referral on LinkedIn?


Whole new world

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Learning about your coworkers’ families, stories, and cultures, and sharing details about your own not only brings a team closer together, it can make you more empathetic to others. Through empathy, teams are exposed to different perspectives, which opens them up to creative possibilities and innovation.


Buffer

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Before sending that angry email to your boss or lash out at a customer, run your thoughts and heightened emotions through a sieve. Coworkers are more easily accessible when it comes to real-time, day-to-day goings-on than your family and friends. They can help you edit your words, keep your cool, and maintain a degree of professionalism.

See more at: Espresso

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