Why I like working with friends

Working with people you like is, to me, as important as liking the work you do


It's been a weird few weeks at work.

A bunch of colleagues have either retired, resigned or finished their contracts, and their last days were around the same time.

This has meant several rounds of farewell lunches and teas where we stuffed our faces with cake, reminisced about the past and forced those who were leaving to make speeches.

Among those saying their goodbyes were P and K, whom I had worked closely with for many years.

P was my secretary for more than a decade before she retired last week.

She's stylish, vivacious and friendly, and was the first colleague I confided in when I was getting married. In fact, she took the call from H when he looked me up by cold- calling my office back in 2009. I'll always be grateful she passed me his message.

When she retired last week, many of us were sad. The office is quieter and less colourful without her.

I'd also worked with K for more than a decade, first in the Life! section then more recently when we both moved to the newspaper's digital section.

A chirpy, cheerful guy, he always "got it" whenever I came up with a crazy idea for a story. He would egg me on and put his even crazier spin on things.

I felt energised and inspired in his company.

He resigned to join another organisation that will stretch his creativity even further.

I was also very sad to see him go.

I've been in the workforce for nearly three decades, and if there is one thing I've concluded, it is that working with people you like is as important as liking the work you do.

For one thing, we spend an awful lot of our waking hours in the office.

Once upon a time, work was considered something separate from your personal life. You worked nine to five then returned to your real world.

These days, especially with technology keeping us connected to the office and each other, we put in such long hours that our jobs take centre stage. For many of us, our colleagues are our only social network.

If you have to share cubicle space and a waste bin with another person for 10 straight hours a day, you would want it to be a person you can get along with.

I spend more time with my colleagues than my family.

On an average work day, I have more meaningful conversations with my neighbour at work than I do with my husband, who leaves the house before I wake up and whom I barely converse with at night because we get home late and rush to prepare for bed.

A lot of work we do nowadays also involves working in teams. It helps if you see eye to eye with your team-mate rather than want to gouge his eyes out.

Experts cite five factors when it comes to job satisfaction: the work itself, supervision, co-workers, pay and promotion opportunities.

Studies have found that how people feel about their colleagues affects not just job satisfaction, but also their satisfaction with life.

If you like your co-workers, chances are you enjoy going to work. And if you have a positive attitude towards your job, you tend to perform better, which in turn results in you being a happier person all round.

The funny thing about the working world is how you can't predict the sort of people you will click with.

Age, for example, is not a barrier.

When I was in school, it was unthinkable that I could be friends with people half or twice my age. What would we have in common? What would we talk about?

The working world has changed all that.

I have many colleagues whose company I like who are far younger or older than me. P is 12 years older and K five years younger, but that has not stopped us from being friends. They get along too.

Gender, race and nationality are also no hurdles to developing a positive relationship with a co-worker.

The best office pals offer a listening ear when you have complaints, cheer you up when you are down and give you advice with your best interests at heart - and you do the same for them.

To be sure, though, the office is no Disneyland.

Politicking, backstabbing, sabotage, one upmanship, put-downs and cliques are also part of the landscape. Not everyone is friendly and if you think everyone likes you and wishes you well, then you are being naive.

Even if they do, workplace friendships tend to be fragile, easily shattered by money, status and power, things which are after all the basic motivations of most people in pursuit of a career.

Friendships can also complicate decision making, especially when one has to do, say, a friend's performance appraisal.

There is also the problem of being too chummy with a co-worker such that platonic feelings move on to something more serious - bad news if you are already attached, not to mention other messy workplace implications.

My rule of thumb: If you are hiding what you do with your office pal from your partner, then it's time to rethink and retreat from the cosy lunches and flirty e-mail.

In my nearly 30 years of working life, my relationships with my colleagues have largely been positive (I think so, anyway.)

One reason is I don't start off with high expectations of workplace friendships or loyalties.

All I'm looking for is to keep things pleasant with my work mates. Treat others as you want them to treat you, I say. Life's also too short to be fighting with people you were randomly thrown together with just because you both happened to veer towards the same occupation.

I've discovered that sometimes, a warm relationship with a colleague will fizzle out for no particular reason, just as non-work friendships also die. You just grow apart. So long as there are no ill feelings and things are not awkward, I don't get unduly affected by it.

Once in a rare while, a good work relationship deepens into a friendship that extends beyond the office. That's a bonus, and to be treasured.

To P and K, thank you for your friendship at work all these years, and I hope we'll stay in touch even though we're no longer colleagues.


Follow Sumiko Tan on Twitter @STsumikotan

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