The Fashion Magpie Workplace Friends

Work Friends.

*Image via Sandra Semburg.

I recently read a fascinating article on “the magic of your first work friends,” in which author Emma Goldberg observes: “There’s an electricity to forming that first close friend at work. It’s the thrill of staying too late at drinks to keep giggling. It’s the delight of darting to someone’s desk and dragging her to the bathroom to gossip. It’s the tenderness of showing up to work on a rough morning and realizing a co-worker will know instantly that something is wrong. Those early-career friendships have become something of an endangered species.”

Of course, I immediately thought of my girlfriend K. from my first “real” job out of college. She made a very drab year in government consulting manageable. We ate lunch together, bought our first designer bags together (Louis Vuitton Speedys), sat in all-staffs together, and suppressed countless bouts of laughter cloistered in our cubicles together. She became so engrained in my life that she attended several parties with my college friends, had dinner with my family, and — when her boyfriend was returning from a deployment in Iraq — asked me to help her pick “an airport outfit” for their reunion after months apart. When I think back on that year, I think of two things: how much I hated the work and how much I cherished her company.

It’s startling to think that work friends might be going the way of the dinosaur in the face of this more remote workplace. What’s at stake, I wonder? Is it luddite to instinctively mourn the loss of those connections? Are those friendships “perks” but immaterial to the actual business and, in general, to our lives? Or are those relationships key to building a strong and dynamic workforce, one where we might pull a little harder to help a friend out, or be more open to collaboration because we feel more comfortable? Having a close friend at my first professional job made the workplace much more pleasant. I loathed the work but I did not mind the rituals of the workplace because of her: I looked forward to our coffee meet-ups, lunch dates, afternoon strolls outside to thaw from the unbearable frost of peak summer air conditioning. On the flipside, I have witnessed instances where workplace friendships can be corrosive to morale: people team up against one another, or cliques form, or one “bad attitude” permeates an entire crew. I am thinking specifically of situations where a team member disagreed with a strategy or rolled her eyes at a team-building exercise, and those postures soured the mood for everyone and opened the door to foot-dragging and even mutiny. For those reasons, I was close with K. but tended to keep my other colleagues at an arm’s length — a strategy I would strongly advise of any young person entering the workforce because I think close work friendships can complicate and occasionally jeopardize career decisions. It is much easier to keep your head down and tow the line when you are not emotionally tethered to other people. I worked in several start-up organizations in which strong performance led to quick promotions, and I observed many instances in which former workplace peers were suddenly separated by degrees of authority, and this dynamic inevitably rankled. It is difficult to pass along instruction or feedback when you used to badmouth the boss and stay late at happy hour together.

And there are so many gains to an asynchronous, scattered workforce anyway — perhaps “close work friendships” are one loss against a long suite of gains. For one thing, I think it is empowering for the employee to be able to work when and how she wants. I find myself much more productive when I can control my workflow autonomously rather than being arbitrarily chained to my desk for a certain set of hours. I can’t tell you how many times I’d rush through my work in first half of the day and then kill two or three hours until I could go home playing solitaire, online shopping, and even reading books in my cubicle. What a waste of everyone’s time!

Still, there is something that pains me to imagine that the old meet-at-the-water-cooler experience is near-extinct. Are we losing a major pillar of meaningful social interaction with its demise? There is something uniquely human and character-building about learning to cooperate with strangers in a workplace. You discover how different people are. You develop prejudices against and accommodations for different work and communication styles. Especially as a young person, these are fascinating and important opportunities to cultivate yourself, to learn how you are perceived versus how you want to be.

What say you, Magpies? What are we losing here?

Post-Scripts.

+On female friendships.

+On being truly happy for friends.

+On making friendships through motherhood.

Shopping Breaks.

+Mamas rejoice: Frances Hart is running a sale, including my adorable gingham dress (you can see me in it here) and this cute floral dress, which would be perfect as a transition-to-fall piece. These dresses are great for all phases of motherhood: pregnancy, post-partum, nursing, not pregnant, etc.

+I’ve been eyeing this popover from Frank & Eileen for awhile now — I can’t decide if I want it in white to throw on with jeans or in the faded navy (almost denim) color? I’m going to use code JULY22 to get $50 off this purchase once I decide on a color! The “sand” is also chic…

+Activities currently in my cart for my littles: these Squigz and these magnetic letters. Also contemplating more Plus Plus. I brought a small travel tube with us on vacation and even the adults enjoyed using them!

+Margaux is running an archive sale — I’m tempted by these mules in the blue suede (!) or red paisley pattern, but I must say I got SO MUCH WEAR out of my forest green velvet shoes last fall, and would heavily endorse these if you’re in the market. So cute with winter dresses, jeans and a sweater, cords, etc! They add a little festive flair.

+Last year, these reversible quilted pullovers were a TOP favorite pick as a gift for men for the holidays. Found on sale here and here (<<test codes YOUROCK and YOURULE to see if you can get an extra 20% off) and would be a great fall purchase for your man! Also found it on sale for women here, and kinda tempted!

+I am such a sucker for all things Westman Atelier. Eyeing their new setting powder.

+Really getting into the fall spirit – this chunky knit is also in my cart. I wanted it all last season and now it’s 70% off. So cute over a turtleneck, plaid nap dress, or even patterned dress like this with booties.

+Totally lusting after this Bottega tote. No hardware, no labels, and impossibly chic in that great navy color.

+This under-$100 clutch bag has a Mansur Gavriel simplicity to it that I love.

+Loving this cardigan in the new “spruce” color for fall and winter — would look so great over a plaid dress!

+Obsessed with everything Lizzie Fortunato is putting out at the moment. I feel like this necklace would be perfect for fall.

+This embroidered dress is just spectacular.

12 Comments

  1. I think great work friendships are most easily formed when the stakes are low. I had an ideal summer job throughout uni, working in an outdoorsy sports retail and hire shop, and the friendships I had there were the structure of my summers. We would work all day, lock up and go out that night, then do it all again.

    In terms of career-focused jobs, I made some very close friends in my first few (who remain friends to this day) but once I started rising up the ranks I found the way I conducted myself at work changed and while I have always liked (most of) my colleagues and am friendly with them, I am too guarded to make true friendships. Of course, that coincides with my home life getting much busier – no after work drinks when you have to do school pickup! – but I think it’s also making sure I’m acting as a good role model for younger employees, etc.

    1. Interesting – I felt the same way once I took on more responsibility at work. It was easier, simpler, more efficient for me to keep friendships at an arm’s length.

      xx

  2. I joined a team about a year ago that gets together with our small team (8 people) every ~6-8 weeks, and as a broader cohort (50 people) once a quarter. I have made some truly amazing friends on this team – I am even inviting 2 of them to my wedding! I will say that spending *some* in-person time with my team has really helped me get to know them as people, not just workers. Having the time to grab lunch, get drinks, and learn about one anothers’ lives outside of the confines of whatever Zoom meeting we’re on makes it much easier to call up a teammate to gab about anything work- (or life!) related. We spend SO. MUCH. TIME. with our colleagues (even in a virtual world) that if you don’t know one another as people, it can feel like you’re putting work into the void.

    1. That is so astute — “if you don’t know one another as people, it can feel like you’re putting work into the void.” I also found it was much easier to brush off petty frustrations when you had taken the time to get to know someone!

      xx

  3. There is very little about my adult life today that is not the direct result of the friends from my first job. From the obvious — my closest friends — to roommates, subsequent jobs, etc., almost all of it can be traced back. Feel so very lucky to have “been in the trenches” with them and still count them as such close confidants. I can’t imagine having stayed in DC for as long as I have if I had not formed such strong bonds at my first job.

    From a purely work perspective, I’ve found that when I have a real, personal friendship with a coworker, even if its minimal, its always, always easier to navigate conflicts or issues. While it might be possible to form that with one or two coworkers virtually, I doubt it’s possible across an organization, particularly with fringe coworkers with whom miscommunications are more likely to arise with.

    I think the other thing lost by remote work is the chance for romantic partners! Don’t get me wrong, this can definitely be fraught! But — my brother’s longtime girlfriend was a coworker of mine and I introduced them. I met my boyfriend on a blind date set up by my boss and good friend! Without close work friendships, I don’t think these connections would have occurred.

    1. That is so fascinating about the way work relationships can help with personal networks/relationships – hadn’t thought of that. I totally agree that it is always easier to navigate conflicts/issues (and even let petty frustrations slide away) if you take the time to know the person better.

      xx

  4. At the risk of sounding like an editorial from the WSJ, I really do believe friendships are the reason to go back to the office. I adore the people I work with and my two closest friends as an adult are the two women I befriended during my first year at my firm. There’s an intimacy to work friendships that can rarely be mimicked in adult life. (See, e.g., any one of the millions of articles on how to find friends as a grown up. There’s no time!) Surely I like my job more because I work with interesting people who are my friends. But I also planned and debated the mundane details of a wedding with my work friends and clung to them as I transitioned back to work after parental leave. They were present, ready to take a 15 min coffee break in the day. As we were captive at the office for ten hours a day, there was time to really soak each other in over the last ten years. Details that only my mother cares about were known to my friends – what I was cooking for dinner, the weird comment from a boss, and whether I should actually buy this shirt I’ve been eyeing all week. We were knit together over the past ten years by the extraordinary privilege of bearing witness to the very ordinary moments of each other’s life. So for me, I exhale every time my office door is darkened by the shadow of a welcome work friend. I’m so privileged to have found kinship at work and I always encourage our younger workers to come to work to meet each other. The adult world is hard and work makes up a huge part of life for a lot of us. Friends are the rhythm to the work day and, in my opinion, it’s worth the commute to find them.

    1. Thank you so much for these thoughtful insights — I totally know what you mean about how intimate the relationships are with colleagues. They know SO much about you. I feel similarly about neighbors now that we are living in a fairly quiet, close-knit little neighborhood — I cross paths with them so often and they are more likely to know where we are, what we’re having for dinner, who is unwell, what we’re up to on a Saturday morning than anyone else in the world. I didn’t pick them (nor did I pick my colleagues) and yet they are a really important relationship in everyday life, in feeling comfortable in where you are.

      Thanks for the thought provoking notes!

      xx

  5. It’s funny because I had my first work “crew” from my first job a few years ago, but then started a new job in January 2020 (also in government consulting ☠️) and one of my best friends at work I’ve never met in real life! But we ping each other constantly, or call each other at 3 pm to count down the minutes til 4 pm. It is definitely different not being in the office but I’ve still made close friends even being remote. And I honestly might never meet her IRL because she lives 2 hours away from me! Wild.

  6. Love this. My first two work friends- my work husband and my work wife, I called them- are now two of my closest real life friends. Hard to overstate the role they played in the first few years of my career. I love them dearly.

    To your point about remote work reducing the opportunities for such friendships, I do fear that people just starting out in their careers will miss the chance to form such bonds. They say that some of the ingredients required to form a friendship are repeated, unplanned interactions, which happen naturally in the workplace. As for me, a 30something person who is well-established in their role at work, I have actually found myself feeling closer to some coworkers while I have been remote. In particular, my officemate- something about his constant close proximity to me in the beforetimes provoked irritation (always lurking over my shoulder, it felt like) but now that most of our interactions are over MS Teams chat, I find him a lot funnier and less grating. Distance making the heart grow fonder, perhaps!

    1. So interesting! As seems to be the case with most everything, there are pros and cons, and it’s hard to categorize the “remote work” phenomenon as all good or all bad. It’s just different. Somethings are lost, others are gained. Love that you have found this arrangement helpful in nurturing certain relationships — I hadn’t imagined that!

      xx

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