Corporate America, Life Lessons

How to survive Corporate America: Work Friends

Last May I wrote a post spewing advice to new graduates on How to survive Corporate America. I left some things out of it because the post was growing too long and was also bringing back painful memories of my early Corporate America experience. After some therapy and several good cries, I’ve decided to follow up on the piece with the hopes that someone can learn from my mishaps. So today I want to talk about Work Friends.

Work Friends are completely different animals than your Real Friends and in fact they are not your friends in the true sense of the word. They may someday become Real Friends, especially if you change companies or at least departments, or are no threat to one another. In the meantime it is best to be friendly and cordial but careful.

Your Work Friends aren’t going to be people you share your most intimate secrets with, especially since anything you say at the office can and will be used against you by HR. What you are looking for is something a little more substantial than garden variety small talk but steering clear of any controversial, inappropriate or un-PC talk.

Example: How was your weekend?

Acceptable Answer: Oh great I read a book, saw a movie and went to a trendy new restaurant.

Unacceptable Answer: Well it was touch and go there for a while because my Dom forgot the safe word and we almost ran out of coconut oil which always makes the goats nervous.

It is important to bond with your Work Friends. The person who is your coworker or even subordinate today, might be your boss tomorrow. In fact, chances are good that if you remain in the same industry, they will someday be in a position to at least give input on hiring you. People remember the bad things longer than they remember the good. They won’t care that you covered for them coming in late every morning but they will remember that one time you took a day off on their kid’s birthday and they had to come into the office, even if you scheduled your time off months in advance.

It is important to bond with your Work Friends. It may not always be possible or easy. My first post-college job planted me in a group of older married women who lived in the suburbs and had nothing in common with a twenty something college grad who was single, male and lived in the city. We also didn’t try very hard to get to know one another because we were at different stations on the Railroad of Life, which left very little in common to talk about. Besides getting a paycheck from the same place, I think the only thing we had in common was our need to breathe oxygen.

Still with the right tools I might have been able to do a better job of it.

A good way to bond with coworkers is to do something outside of the office together. It might be lunch. It might be going for a walk on a nice sunny day. It might be drinks after work. This last one is the most common so if you are not a drinker, going to happy hour might seem like a waste of your time. No one wants to drink around Sober Sally and risk divulging personal secrets.

The way you can make this work is to join your co-workers anyway and buy the first round of drinks, and then take off. If you don’t imbibe at all for religious or personal reasons, you can still pull this off by ordering a non-alcoholic drink. They will remember you as the cool dude who bought the brews…then talk about you for the rest of the night.


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