A few weeks ago, it struck me that I spend more time with my coworkers than anyone else in my life. Forty hours a week is more than I spend with my family, my boyfriend, and my very closest friends. Have you found that although you work side-by-side with people, you don’t know much about them? Perhaps you’re about to begin a new job, and the thought of befriending a new group of people causes you to break out in a cold sweat.
You’re not alone. Many people, especially millennials, wrestle with creating workplace friendships. According to a study of 3,000 Americans at work, 41% of people view their coworkers as just that–coworkers. An additional 22% consider them strangers.
Millennials are having a particularly difficult time making friends at work. 65% of millennials find it hard to make friends in a professional setting. Only 26% of those over 55, however, have difficulties creating friendships.
You might not initially feel like this is a big deal, but a lack of work friends can poison your entire experience. Did you know that three-quarters of those who find making work friends difficult believe that it hurts their mental well-being?
Having friends at work is essential, but the process of making them often seems overwhelming. At the same time, you can’t expect opportunities to simply fall in your lap. The secret, as in every relationship, lies in intentionality. The following are a few realistic ways you can begin to build your office friendships.
What’s in a Name?
It’s impossible to over-stress the importance of using someone’s name when speaking to them. As cliche as it sounds, names have power. They connect us to our individuality, what makes us unique. Dale Carnegie wasn’t messing around when he said that “A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
When you meet someone, remember their name. We all claim to be “bad with names,” and I am absolutely no exception. I get it; it’s the best way to excuse this subtle form of rudeness. Don’t fall into this trap. Listen up when someone tells you their name. Recite it to yourself in your head a few times. Use a mnemonic. Whatever it takes.
Once you know someone’s name, remember to use it! Don’t start a greeting with “hey” or by diving right into a question. Use their name to get their attention. By using someone’s name, you’re behaving like someone who is friendly, approachable, and genuinely invested.
Hello // Goodbye
Say good morning when you come in for the day. I’m serious. This action seems so simple, I know. But you’d be surprised at how many people slink in, plunk down in their chair, and immediately tune out. Start the day with a warm smile and a quick hi before you settle in.
Similarly, say goodbye when you leave. Don’t just pack up your things and bolt at five o’clock like an eighth-grade boy when the last school bell rings. Those “last impressions” build up over time. Do your best to remain in control of them.
The other day one of my coworkers told me that me standing up and saying goodbye to her each Friday meant that her weekend could officially begin. Being the gateway to someone’s weekend is pretty powerful. Don’t waste it.
Initiate an Activity
I get it, initiating something with people you don’t know well is tough. And yes, you do run the risk of being shot down. If I had a magic formula to avoid having people turn you down, I’d share it here. Remember, though, most of your peers crave those meaningful office friendships as much as you do. Try something like a quick coffee run. Many people are happy to take a break. Another good option is a celebratory lunch. Did you all complete a major project? Did someone close a deal? Suggest that you do something together to celebrate. Lunch is good because it’s still during the workday, so people are around, but you can get out of an office setting.
Be Your Own Brand of Generous
The generosity of my coworkers has never failed to impress me. I’m not suggesting you go all out. A fake show of generosity is uncomfortable for all parties involved. Be you! Our resident “crazy plant lady” at work once brought me a snake plant after overhearing me talk about how I had killed every succulent I’d ever had. I still have it, and I’ve given all of its offspring to various coworkers. The small gesture of her bringing me in a plant made my week, and the thing still brightens my day regularly.
Another coworker once bought me a coffee during a tough week. She didn’t give me a chance to turn her offer down. She just bought the coffee and put it down on my desk in front of me.
Those small actions mean so much. You won’t miss a couple of bucks or a few minutes. But it has the potential to make a big difference in the lives of your new work friends.
When All Else Fails, Bring Food
Your grandma was right. Nothing brings people together like food, especially homemade food. At a past job, I found that leaving an open container of chocolate chip cookies out on my desk was a great way to bait future friends. People will swing by to chat before they take their snack, and word travels fast that there’s food up for grabs. As a general rule, people are pretty shameless when it comes to free food, so you may end up meeting someone you’ve never talked to before.
Making friends is challenging, no matter who you are or where you are in your life or career. Us millennials seem to be finding it harder than it has to be, but there is no need to be discouraged. Making friends is far from an impossible task, but it requires more intentionality and risk than it has in any other stage of life.