Rebecca Grisman, right, with Mandy Hegarty and Kelly Pendlebury are work colleagues and friends.
Rebecca Grisman, right, with Mandy Hegarty and Kelly Pendlebury are work colleagues and friends. Kari Bourne

Workmates often make good friends

WE SPEND eight hours or more a day with them. During the working week, we often spend more time with them than we do our own partners and family.

So just how important are friendships in the workplace?

Do work buddies have an impact on our health and well-being and do they make work and life more pleasant?

University of the Sunshine Coast Clinical psychology lecturer Rosemary Crake said having a friend at work was a form of social support - a resource that was vital when it came to dealing with stress.

"If you can have someone at work who you can talk freely to, share a joke with, it automatically makes the workplace more pleasant," Ms Crake explained.

"It's a positive place to go (work) even if you're only friends with one person.

"You can in fact work more effectively because you have more psychological resources."

The clinical psychology lecturer said those who simply "went to work to do the job" and worked where there was little or no social interaction and inclusion often felt isolated and had less help when it came to coping with stress, which in itself could lead to further problems and tensions.

While having close ties generally made the office or worksite a better environment, establishing workplace friendships was a major balancing act, Ms Crake warned.

Employees needed to set boundaries and "separate friendship and workplace roles", otherwise bonds could fuel conflict and become detrimental, she said.

Go to lunch, share jokes, socialise with workmates but uphold a professional relationship inside the workplace, she said.

For example, do not expect favours or special treatment because you're the boss's friend, the clinical psychologist advised.

University of the Sunshine Coast senior lecturer and research co-ordinator Peter Innes said close workplace friendships could help overcome the rigidity of large bureaucratic organisations but close bonds were often more common in small to medium enterprises as employers and employees often communicated directly and owners and managers instilled their own values into the business.

Because workplaces often brought together a diverse range of different people and personalities, clashes were often inevitable, Dr Innes said.

"Workplace friendships could be a double-edged sword and problematic if there were individuals who didn't get along, he said.

Founder of public relations and marketing company The Campaign Group, Rebecca Grisman, said she believed harmony and good relationships were vital in the workplace.

Ms Grisman said she had become friends with her business partner Sarah Randell long before they entered a partnership.

"We've been friends for 10 years and have run the company for four years," Ms Grisman said.

The business owner said everyone at The Campaign Group was friends and without the strong bonds, it would be difficult to get their daily work done.

With a strong focus on teamwork, Ms Grisman said workers were constantly communicating with each other and met face-to-face every day.

"We are a team of all girls. We are very good at airing any issues and we deal with any issues quickly and upfront," Ms Grisman said.

"Friends resolve problems better.

"We speak frankly to each other and we actually care how the other one is coping with stress.

"If issues arise, it's the depth of your friendship that helps you get through them."

But while the women were friends inside and outside work, the communications expert recognised the importance of distinguishing between friendships and professional roles: "It's one thing to get along socially and another to work together."

Ms Crake offers the following tips:

  • Be pleasant and polite when interacting with colleagues.
  • Engage in social functions.
  • If you have a problem with someone at work, deal with it as soon as possible. Don't let the issue drag out as it could escalate.
  • If you and a work friend disagree over a work-related issue or arrangement, don't take it personally. Separate the person from the conflict.
  • Have a friend outside work, who doesn't know anyone in your workplace, that you can confide in about work issues. This person will allow you to vent any built-up tensions concerning work.

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