Leadership insight #9 – 2022: Friendships at work: why they matter

2 June 2022

Many doctors we are speaking with now are referencing how much they are missing friends at work. They miss seeing and spending time with colleagues and they miss the opportunities to transition these collegial relationships into friendships. These relationships are sustaining. This is what ‘engagement,’ well-being and connectedness is.

We have transformed the way we work radically over the past two and a half years. We now wear masks all they time, physically distance and keep apart from team members, we work from home where possible, we use telehealth, we engage remotely in meetings via video platforms, and impromptu corridor catchups are a rarity. I think we are still grieving – and missing – the closeness and physicality of our colleagues. The cups of tea, the laughter without masks, the walking together and huddles in corridors and around the place, and just being able to reply on a social aspect at work.

In a professional context we often talk about ‘professional relationships’ and ‘connectedness at work’ – and other predictors of engagement and wellbeing. This language is pretty abstract – mentioning social connection but avoiding the ‘F’ word. As if being friends is somehow unprofessional. But I think we need to talk about friends and friendship at work. I do not mean we have to have our best friends at work, or that these friendships are the same as other friendships. But I do think we need to acknowledge the closeness of the people we talk to and share our work with every day. There is a significant closeness in that. And the significance of these relationships to our health and wellbeing, and our sense of belonging and satisfaction at work have received much attention lately. Read more about the importance of your personal network here

Attending to our relationships and friendships is therefore a legitimate part of work. It is part of establishing effective high performing teams, building a strong collaborative organisational culture, and in ensuring employee well-being and engagement is at optimal levels. So, in the environment we now find ourselves working in, let us focus on the small everyday actions we can take to build relationships at work: However, these actions while small are not always easy to do.

Here are some small actions to take:

A recent study of collaborative teams suggests that high-performing teams do five things differently in terms of how they leverage social connectedness at work.

High performing teams report doing, or doing more of –

  1. Picking up the phone
  2. Are more strategic in meetings
  3. Invest time in non-work social activities
  4. Give and receive appreciation
  5. More authentic at work – sharing own positive and negative experiences; being ‘real’ with each other.

I love the first one – picking up the phone. And it resonates with other commentary about how, with the increasing numbers of different platforms we have to communicate through, we do less and less in-person and over the phone communication with others. But the connection we feel face-to-face and through our voices is significant.

Social connectedness is important. Be available to make friends at work.

Dr. Anna Clark (PhD)
AMA Victoria, Leadership consultant, coach & educator

Dr Anna Clark is AMAVs Leadership consultant, coach and educator, currently offering individual coaching for doctors and directing the AMA’s professional development programs in leadership, the Emerging Leader Program and Middle Leader Program



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