Life ad­vice

We all un­der­stand the power of friend­ship, but tend to un­der­es­ti­mate our re­la­tion­ships at work. Writer KATE LEAVER ex­plains why we should value those we spend so much time with each week

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Stellar - - Contents -

Kate Leaver on the value of a work spouse.

While I love work­ing from home as a free­lancer, hav­ing an of­fi­cial work wife is one of the things I miss about be­ing in an of­fice. My favourite work wife ever was Rosie Water­land – we worked to­gether when we were both se­nior edi­tors at Ma­mamia, and I think we were gen­uinely each other’s great­est work perks. Our jobs can be so stress­ful and fren­zied, and it’s im­por­tant to have an ally. She was mine.

Work spouses can change the way we think of our jobs – they can make it worth get­ting up ev­ery morn­ing and walk­ing into the same of­fice each day. And they make us demon­stra­bly bet­ter at our jobs. That’s not just con­jec­ture from me: a now fa­mous Gallup poll found that peo­ple with a close friend at work were 43 per cent more likely to re­port that they re­ceived praise and recog­ni­tion, 37 per cent more likely to feel en­cour­aged at work and 27 per cent more likely to feel their opin­ions mat­ter.

Re­search shows us time and again that sup­port­ive work friend­ships make us more creative, more dar­ing and – de­spite all the gos­sip at the bis­cuit tin – more pro­duc­tive. Peo­ple with work bud­dies are sick less of­ten and take fewer days off; this is ob­vi­ously a sweet side ef­fect of friend­ship for the in­di­vid­ual, but also se­ri­ously good news for the busi­ness.

We spend so much of our lives in the of­fice that many times we end up putting in more con­tact hours with our work wives or hus­bands than with our “real” spouses or part­ners. And there’s of­ten this se­cret lan­guage between work friends – some­thing you de­velop when you need to de­brief on the minu­tiae of of­fice life and gos­sip. I can see how that level of in­ti­macy might be threat­en­ing to a ro­man­tic part­ner. It’s com­pli­cated when we get close to some­one of the op­po­site sex, too. To avoid any neg­a­tive feel­ings, I’d sug­gest be­ing open with your part­ner about why that friend­ship ex­ists and what it means to you.

De­spite the pos­i­tives of of­fice spouses, they are still rel­a­tively rare. A UK study sug­gests that only 17 per cent of peo­ple have a close friend at work. This shocks me be­cause I have al­ways ranked friend­ship as one of the great­est things about work­ing. Per­haps it’s be­cause I have been, grate­fully, sur­rounded by in­cred­i­ble women most of my ca­reer.

I think peo­ple – par­tic­u­larly Gen X and older – have this idea that it’s in­ap­pro­pri­ate to bring your per­sonal life to work. Peo­ple have this idea that to be pro­fes­sional, we must be stoic and for­mal. But that’s not con­ducive to mak­ing true friends. To do that, you usu­ally have to show some vul­ner­a­bil­ity, which a lot of peo­ple still seem to think is a sign of weak­ness. In truth it is a sign of strength.

So keep your eye out for col­leagues who you think would make good friends. You might just be look­ing at your fu­ture work hus­band or wife. The Friend­ship Cure by Kate Leaver (Harper Collins, $29.99) is out to­mor­row.

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