We have all been warned against forming relationships with our coworkers. Over the years, each of us have heard horror stories of partnerships gone wrong and employees selling one another out for a promotion. And yet, the average person spends 90,000 hours at work over the course of their lifetime. I don’t know about you, but that seems like a pretty long time to go without making any friends.
In order to foster positive company culture, we must learn how to have healthy relationships in the workplace. In my business, I am good friends with all of my employees because we’ve created an environment of professionalism and fun together. How, you might ask?
First, I hired 7 women that genuinely value relationships in their own life. During their interviews, the conversation focused on both their work experience and their personal lives. The boutique fitness world is all about forming relationships with our clients, so I tailored my questions to discover how they interact with others in and out of work.
Upon hiring, our first meetings were social in nature; we spent just as much time eating out and talking as we did training. At the start of every meeting, everyone is encouraged to recall an inspiring moment from the last few weeks before ever delving into the negative. We ask about each other’s lives, babysit each other’s dogs, and grab drinks after work because community and culture go hand in hand.
However, fostering relationships is not solely the job of the employer; every individual must learn how to shape positive communication, trust, and friendly collaboration. In my experience, working with friends can have pitfalls, but it usually comes down to the type of person you align yourself with. It’s foolish to think that you will be best friends with everyone in your company, but it’s just as detrimental to close yourself off from any opportunity for relationships. Below are the three attitudes that can poison a workplace and actionable steps to avoid them:
A surefire way to complicate your life at work is to cozy up the employee who can’t stop talking about others behind their back. It’s impossible to build a great culture if someone is determined to divulge others’ private information or badmouth employees during their spare time.
The Fix: To prohibit gossip from spreading like wildfire, don’t be afraid to be blunt. As an employer or coworker, face the situation head on by saying, “Now’s not the time,” or “I don’t want to talk about someone on our team without them present.” It’s pretty hard to continue gossiping when faced with blatant honesty, and it’s the only thing that can put out the fire.
Culture is about collaboration, not competition. If you have a coworker that is constantly bragging about their achievements, trying to compare your workloads, and/or undermining other employees, you know you have a one-upper on your hands.
The Fix: A one-upper is driven by insecurity, so don’t let yours get the best of you. Encourage this person by paying them a genuine compliment when they excel. Let your actions speak for themselves instead of arguing back, and don’t be afraid to take the high road. When faced with your constant praise, their need to assert their own superiority should diminish. Be approachable rather than defensive.
Some call it micromanaging, but I call it babysitting. In my experience as a female millennial in the workplace, it can be difficult to work with others who have an insecurity complex about your age difference. If your subordinate has an issue with your age or experience level and constantly makes you feel inadequate, focus your efforts of reframing the conversation.
The Fix: As an employee, let communication be your guide. If you receive unsolicited corrections, take it upon yourself to ask for more feedback. It seems counterintuitive, but inquire about your performance in a polite manner. Say, “What could I be doing better?” or “Is there anything I’m not doing that you expect of me?” It might soothe your babysitter to know that you truly care about your work, and hopefully, they’ll relax and let you do the job you were hired for. If you show a genuine will to work, they will have less to pick on.
Above all, to create a company culture where relationships can thrive, you need three key components: honesty, approachability, and the will to work. These qualities can only flourish when gossiping, one-upping, and babysitting are put to rest. To fight negative talk, be honest. To avoid competition, be approachable. To calm a babysitter, show a will to do great work despite criticism. Coworkers who treat each other with these values will ultimately create a professional environment based on mutual respect where friendships can flourish.
If you’re tired of being lonely at work, examine the culture where you live out your 9-5. What positive steps can you take to foster successful interactions inside the workplace and eliminate negative stereotypes? Challenge yourself to be a leader in your team, even if you don’t have the official authority. You have the power to shape the conversation. Speak up, work together, and don’t be afraid to take the working relationship to the next (friendly) step.