Why work friends are important in and outside of the workplace

When Parks and Recreation’s Leslie Knope tried to keep all her work friends together by forcing them to sign loyalty pledges, you might have thought she was being melodramatic. The final episode of the show, literally called “One Last Ride,” shows the crew fixing up a broken swing at a park for old times’ sake. “We need to celebrate everything we’ve done as a group,” Leslie exclaims during the episode. It’s both a nostalgic farewell to a good thing they had going and an exciting hello to new ventures, and I’ve never related more to an episode. It taught me the value of work friendships and made me realize why it’s so important to hold onto them, even after job changes.

Years ago, during the last week of a summer program I’d attended at UCLA with students from all around the globe, one of the coordinators reminded us that this was one of the last few times we’d all be in the same room together, and to cherish it.

The gravity of those words made an impact on me, and the older I’ve gotten, the more I understand them. Whether in school or the workplace, the more we mature in our lives and careers, the more we naturally drift away from people we once considered our closest confidantes. Brunch and work buddies become social media friends, and suddenly, staying in touch and grabbing lunch just become sweet platitudes.

It’s hard to keep a former work friendship together after one of you leaves for another opportunity. You can easily find common ground when working in the same company. You can commiserate about work issues and celebrate accomplishments. You’re each in the unique position of knowing exactly what the other is going through for eight hours a day in ways that your personal friends and family may not be.

This is why it’s so important to foster friendships at work—it’s not a matter of mixing business with pleasure, but of mixing business with healthy relationships.

We see our colleagues nearly five days a week (maybe more depending on your work schedule). We run into them in the hallways on our way to get more coffee (or tea, in my case). We maybe sit in the same row or have offices next to each other. We go to each other for advice and collaborate on projects. Our shared passion helps us grow professionally. At the risk of making this all about Leslie Knope (can you blame me?), I found resonance in her commencement speech during the series finale:

“What makes work worth doing is getting to do it with people you love.

In fact, there is actual research suggesting that having work friends contributes to “long-term happiness” because these friendships can enhance overall positivity in the workplace and keep us engaged in our careers. We spend so much of our time at work that fostering human connections with those in our departments can make us feel happier. These relationships create a sense of community.

After parting ways with one too many work friends over the years, I became more conscious of how I kept in touch with them, and how I can stay connected with people who’ve motivated me professionally and personally. While I am sad that we may no longer work together, I’ve come to realize that’s okay—it adds breadth to my circle of friends, pushes me to participate in more work and networking events in my industry, and reminds me to proactively keep in touch. Why wouldn’t I want to surround myself with uplifting friendships?

One of my work friends—who recently left our workplace to focus on her own business—and I bonded over our love of pop culture and romance books. We’ve acted as each other’s sounding boards for various projects and motivated each other to pursue different ideas, which led to us becoming friends outside of the workplace.  While I was simultaneously overjoyed and saddened to learn of her plans—Who else would gush over the latest British Royals gossip with me? Who else could I lament with about mutual reading slumps?—it made me appreciate the depth of our friendship. We didn’t need to use work as a basis for staying in touch.

In fact, we even discussed launching our own podcast as a hobby because we want to harness the positive energy we sent to each other at work over the years. We can turn our love of culture and books into something meaningful. I think Leslie would be proud.

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