Work friendships: relationships that keep on giving

An article in the Sunday New York Times by Emma Goldberg titled The Magic of Your First Work Friends struck a chord with me as I was reading about how intense and long-lasting these friendships may become. What starts out as sharing a workplace can evolve into a friendship more enduring and fulfilling than we ever envisioned.

There is a reason I have strong opinions on the subject even though it’s been nearly two decades since I retired. That’s because I’m currently and still enjoying the benefits of friendships I made in the workplace many decades ago.

Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, and Jane Fonda epitomized the value of workplace friendships in the award-winning 1980 chick flick 9 to 5.
In a classic example of life imitating art, the three women remained close friends for decades after the completion of the movie. Fonda and Tomlin co-starred in seven seasons of Grace & Frankie on Netflix.

When I started working for Ma Bell on July 5, 1965, I was a naive, seventeen-year-old who had moved to the big city of Toronto because there were no jobs when I finished high school in our small town of three thousand people. I had little to no experience in the larger world and had everything to learn about living on my own in the big city, sharing accommodations with dozens of other girls in a dormitory-style boarding facility (Willard Hall), and negotiating my first job in a large national corporation.

Many of us boomer gals started our careers in the typing pool.

From my first job way back then, I learned that there is something magical about how we’re attracted to like-minded people we work with. My first friend at the telephone company was another Linda. She grew up in Toronto so she seemed incredibly sophisticated to me in the way she dressed, sharing with me the details of her love life or lack of depending on the day of the week, and her opinions. We soon became joined at the hip as she introduced me to the value of spending the extra money on a compact of real powder blusher instead of using lipstick to brighten my cheeks, the fun of continuing my amateurish attempts at writing, and the appeal of modelling our fashion look after Jean Shrimpton. Linda and I lost touch when she left to go to work for an insurance company but I’ve never forgotten her.

My next job in the cosmetics department at Eaton’s College Street store in 1970 yielded a couple of new friends my age, one of whom I’m still in contact with on Facebook. After that, I joined EllisDon Corporation in 1971 and spent most of my remaining working years growing with that company until I retired in 2005.

 

What may begin as a workplace friendship often evolves into a lifetime friendship.

My years at EllisDon produced so many intense and wonderful friendships. Sadly, some have disappeared into the ether but my contacts in those years set off a chain reaction of spin-off friendships that are a still major part of my life now, nearly fifty years later. Friendships often have a way of surviving longer than some of our marriages.

One of the downsides of COVID and working from home is the absence of person-to-person contact with our co-workers. The camaraderie and social connection with the people we work with was and still is perhaps the best part of going to work every day. We gossip over morning coffee; we go out to lunch together; we share ideas, and help each other when it’s needed. For those reasons, I know working full-time from home would not have been a good thing for me. I learned that when I managed my own consulting business for a few years. I missed my office friends.

Business lunches and after-hours social events are important not only to corporate team-building but can lead to deeper personal friendships.

Our coworkers who become friends help us through not only business problems but personal ones as well. They go to yoga classes with us; they share the names of good hairdressers; they advise and support us when our love life is crumbling, and they cover for us at work when we’re off sick. These relationships sustain us on a daily basis and help us cope not only with work challenges but whatever else life throws at us. We grow together.

People who work from home full-time are missing out on a vital component of our social support system. How many of us have coworkers to thank for introducing us to future spouses or encouraging us to take up a hobby or outside interest? Some of us even marry someone we worked with. How many of us have current friends we did not work with but met through coworkers? I know I am one of those people and I am eternally grateful for these spinoff friendships.

The last two years have thrown a wrench into our entire social structure. We’re slowly rebuilding but in the midst of the novelty of working from home, I hope the importance of cultivating personal (that means in-person) friendships with coworkers is not lost.

 

Working from home may have its appeal in the short term but ultimately it can limit your promotability and professional growth.

I have often thought of my own friendships as being like a mirrored disco ball. Each facet is a person and that person reflects me back to the world; each facet is integral to the whole. In The New York Times article, psychologist Marisa G. Franco is quoted as saying, “Friends mirror our identity back to us.” That’s a perfect analogy, a variation of the old meme, “You’re judged by the company you keep.”

I have very special friends in my life that I met through coworkers more than forty years ago and I cannot imagine life without them. Especially as we age, we need friends more than ever and with so much of our time dedicated to our jobs, what better place to forge life-long friendships? The ties we make in our 20s and 30s often lead to the kind of friends that sustain us for life. Empty offices could lead to empty lives. No matter where they’re formed, friends are the staff of life.

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Fauzia Irshad
Fauzia Irshad
1 month ago

What a lovely description of friendship .Someone has coined a term VitaminF for it and according to their research it alleviates stress and the chances of cardiac arrest and stroke.

Deb
Deb
1 month ago

This is so true. I met so many wonderful people in my career and am fortunate to have sustained a relationship with some of the best!

Gail Czopka
Gail Czopka
1 month ago

Right on Lynda. I loved your comparison to the disco ball….. Well put❤️