Workplace allies: unlocking the power of work besties and partners

Sep 21, 2022 - updated Apr 25, 2023

7 mins

Workplace allies: unlocking the power of work besties and partners
Natalia Barszcz

Freelance journalist and writer

Who tells you all the news, but gives away none of your secrets? Who loves sharing a coffee break? Who tells you your sweater is inside out – before the boss notices? Yes, that’s your work BFF. We all know that work besties are invaluable. It’s a special kind of friendship. They support you and motivate you. They share your professional passions and are happy to listen to your worries and doubts. But is a work bestie all you need to feel happy and fulfilled in your professional role? Perhaps not. For that you might need a work partner. So what’s the difference? We spoke to five women to get an understanding of these (very) differrent types of colleagues and to figure out whether you need both.

Your work bestie: the one who is always by your side

A work BFF is someone you often interact with in a casual, light, and social way. They make time spent in the office more fun. This can be anyone you meet and click with at work: a colleague who shares your cubicle, a team member, or a team leader. It doesn’t matter how you met, what matters is the relationship you have developed.

Victoria*, now a junior project manager at a TV advertising agency, says she met her work bestie on her first day, during a job orientation. “Daniel and I joined the company at the same time, both as media assistants,” she says. “We clicked immediately and would spend most of our time in the office together. It was just really nice to have someone in the same boat as you, someone who was new and was still discovering the company and their potential.”

Your work best friend is an essential part of your support system at work. They make you feel connected to the workplace and its culture. Your interactions might be personal and open, but they are still appropriate and respectful. Some choose to hang out with their work besties only during the office hours, such as Ana,* a UX and web designer at a creative agency. “My work bestie, Aiden, is the person I spend the most time with every day at work. We do lunch breaks together, we sit next to each other at meetings, et cetera,” she says. “We like to show each other little acts of kindness. Sometimes he brings me a cookie and a coffee in the morning, sometimes I paint something for him and give it as a gift. It just makes the work environment much more fun, especially during a busy and stressful time.”

Others, like Maya*, an associate at a law firm specializing in tech, socialize with work friends outside of the office sometimes. “I actually have two work besties. We mostly keep our friendship light and personal. It’s good to have them, especially during very busy work periods. The friendship keeps us all sane,” says Maya. “During quieter times at the firm, we like to spend the first 30 minutes in the kitchen chatting about our lives over a coffee. Sometimes we go out for drinks on Fridays as well – but we rarely hang out on weekends. I like to keep these friendships separate from work.”

Having a work BFF can be very beneficial. Here are some of the key benefits:

  • Improved engagement: Employees who indicate having work besties are seven times more engaged in their work and in what is going on in the workplace than those who have not developed friendships at work.

  • Decreased stress: Those who have a work best friend – someone they can share their thoughts and feelings about work with – feel more secure and supported which, in the long run, can help with stress management, reduce the possibility of burnout, and improve job performance.

  • Higher job satisfaction: Employees who feel connected to their colleagues tend to show higher overall satisfaction levels with the job and work environment.

  • Higher motivation: Work friendships based on mutual respect can help employees bring out the best in each other – professionally or personally – and drive motivation to strive for better work performance.

When work friendships become a mixed blessing

Yes, there are many benefits to having a bestie at work. Yet, research has found that the effects of multiplex relationships – in other words, relationships and friendships that derive from work environments – can also be a “mixed blessing.” Why is that?

Strong work friendships can lead to decreased productivity and more distraction. Victoria experienced this first hand when her workplace decided to close the office and send everyone to work from home. “Both Daniel and I were still new at the job and we felt very unsure about what we were doing when working from home,” she says. “So we decided to create our own office space. Sometimes we would meet at my place, sometimes I would go to his apartment, and sometimes we would meet in a café. We thought that this way neither Daniel nor I would feel alone during work hours and we would be more confident completing our tasks – on paper, it sounded like a great idea.”

After a few days, they realized that this arrangement wouldn’t work in the long run, as both of them would finish the day without finishing their work. “We got so close as work besties in the first few weeks and our characters worked so well that most of the time spent together we would just end up chatting – about people from work or our personal lives – and not really do any work,” she says. “The fact that we were still quite new and unsupervised also played a big part, as it made us more distracted than focused and productive.”

Work friendships can be detrimental to productivity and professionalism. It can lead to less constructive and honest feedback too if the friends become very close. Of course, it all depends on your character and the nature of your friendship. But in certain instances, you might have to separate your work bestie from your actual work – for the sake of your friendship and your jobs. That’s what Ana did.

Ana says, “I love hanging out with Aidan but we just don’t work well together – even though, at first, we were placed together in a team on almost every app or website we worked on. We tried making it work but we always got so distracted. This was especially the case when the office was closed and we had to work from home. One meeting would turn into a three-hour video call during which we would talk about everything and anything.”

They decided to keep their friendship and their work separate. There were no hurt feelings as they still do everything together and are as close as ever. “Since then, I have found another person I work really well with, Tom. We actually don’t work together often but I found his work ethic and his determination to be exactly what I need when I work on a project. So now, every time I need help with a task or even with something I’m struggling with in my freelance business, I turn to Tom,” she says.

Sometimes work besties should stay work besties. But if you actually want to get things done and improve your performance, a work partner might be a better person to put your trust in.

Your work partner: the one who makes you a better employee

Apart from her two work besties, with whom she spends most of her time in the office, Maya has a work partner, Jane, who is a paralegal at the same law firm. “Although we don’t work together often, as our positions entail different responsibilities, every time I need help with something and I know it is within the scope of Jane’s work, I turn to her,” she says. “Her work ethic is incredible, she is so dedicated to everything she does and she always puts 100% into every task. She has great technical and social skills, she is eager to show initiative, and she is very direct and clear in her communication. I really think she is irreplaceable – and to me, she is a dream work partner.”

Your work partner is the person you choose to work with when you need to complete an important task or have a big work commitment. Your relationship is purely professional. It’s not a friendship, but a partnership.

Maya says she could never become close friends with Jane. “Personally, Jane likes to keep things distant and [to be] direct. She has a very strong character and she knows it. Work friendships are not really her thing,” says Maya.

Adriana*, a graphic designer in the public sector, prefers to have a work partner too. “In my previous job, I was in a small office and all of us became friends. In the beginning, it was great but after a few months I ended up feeling a bit overwhelmed because it seemed like I could never escape work,” she says. “So now, at my new job, I decided to have a different approach and I feel much better about it. I keep my personal life and my friends, whom I met outside of work to myself, and I prefer to keep my distance from those I work with.”

Having one work partner suits her best – both for her mental health and her performance. “I have one work buddy, as I like to call her. She’s my team leader, whom I feel very comfortable with. She is someone I can go to when I have a problem, when I’m unsure about something, when I need to ask a question or just want to have a quick chat to clear my head – but only regarding work-related stuff, always,” says Adriana. “I genuinely feel more comfortable having these two parts of my life separate. I’m just the kind of person who prefers to protect her personal life.” Different dynamics and arrangements work for different people. If having friends at work is not for you, a work partner might be the right solution.

Having a work partner also has many benefits:

  • Increased productivity: Both you and your work partner know what you need to get done and you focus on that – there is no room for any distraction or unnecessary chit-chat.

  • Improved communication and collaboration: Work partnerships and their purely professional nature drive honesty and constructive feedback. With fewer deep and personal connections between you and your work partner, there is less chance that either of you will get hurt.

  • Better quality of work: Your work partner supports you and helps you with your work, but they also challenge you when you need to be challenged and face you when there is something you both need to solve.

Working it out

Whether you have a work bestie or a work partner, relationships are priceless. The key is to keep an open mind and stay curious. Take Clara*, a social worker, who ended up becoming best friends with her work partner only after both of them had left their jobs. “We both decided that maybe we could try to become friends outside of work. We would meet for coffee and just talk about things we both feel passionate about, ideas that wouldn’t necessarily have to be implemented at our workplace. We still continue meeting up to this day and we are closer than ever,” she says.

Your work relationships are as unique as you are – and you never know where they might lead.

Names have been changed

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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