This week, Refinery29 Canada celebrates Work Friends — the surprising benefits (and occasional complications) of professional friendship.
Many of us spend more time with them than our *real* friends. We count on them for support and coffee runs and Slack chats. Having them makes us happier, healthier, and more successful. And yet work friendships don’t tend to get the same level of attention as our other relationships. Even though they should.
Here, Refinery29 Canada's Executive Editor, Carley Fortune, weighs in on how work friendships have been essential in her career trajectory, why she decided to devote a series to the celebration of professional friendships, and what she looks for in a PFF.
Why is workplace friendship an important topic for Refinery29 to cover?
I felt it was one that would speak to our audience, many of whom are young women in the early stages of their careers. Even more so than men, women really value friendship at work: Research shows that women who have best friends at work are far more likely to be engaged, and two-thirds us say the social component is a “major reason” why we work. In that respect, work environments that foster strong social ties could be a hugely important factor in keeping women in the workforce after having kids, and therefore with creating gender-balanced workplaces. And, as Kathleen Newman-Bremang reports in her piece about the benefits of having close work friendships, women — and women of colour in particular — are more comfortable asserting themselves at work when they have strong social ties there.
Celebrating work friendship feels especially important since so often women are pitted against each other. In a lot of professional environments, there are fewer of us and fewer opportunities at the top, so there’s idea that we’re competing for resources. One of the ways women can fight back against this is by teaming up and forming bonds.
Now might be a good time to point out that I am your work friend.
Yes! And we came up for the idea for this package during one of our many post-work hangouts. That’s maybe the most obvious bonus that I forgot to mention. A lot of us spend so much time at work and thinking about work, and it’s a lot more fun when you have friends to share in those experiences. That’s something that comes up in the profile you wrote of Niu Body co-founders and BFFs Laura Burget and Connie Lo. I think we need to conduct our next brainstorming session by a pool like they do.
Connie and Laura also talk about how only a work friend actually wants to listen to your work stuff.
Well that’s the thing. As much as we might have spouses or close friends who may be invested in our careers, there’s only so much they want to hear about the day-to-day minutia. There’s a very specific bond you develop with someone you work with, and I’ve met most of my close girlfriends through work. What initially drew me to those women is an admiration for their talent, and then the friendship evolves as you grow professionally — the way a work friendship develops is really different from a non-work one. I really loved the profile of Claudia Dey and Heidi Sopinka, the co-creators of Horses Atelier, because of how much their work life is a culmination of a decades-long friendship that has sort of spliced the personal with the professional.
Were there any insights from the work friends featured in this package that surprised you?
I was really interested in what Lainey Lui and Duana Taha had to say about how their friendly rivalry fuels them to create great work. Particularly the part about how competitiveness is celebrated in male culture and frowned upon with women. I don’t know if I see any of my professional friendships as competitive, but I can definitely relate to what they say about being inspired by each other.
As far as surprises, I was shocked by the stat that 65% millennials are having trouble making friends at work — it made me sad. But it's another reason why celebrating these relationships is so important.
Another story in the package talks about “How To Make Your Work Enemy Your Secret Weapon.” Isn’t that kind of counter-intuitive to the idea of work friendship?
Not really. That piece was inspired by that big Atlantic article “Get Yourself a Nemesis,” and then there was also a recent study out of the UK that said 60% of people have a workplace enemy, which I found really funny. Our story is about how to take that jealousy and use it to your advantage. I've always found jealousy to be an incredibly useful feeling — it says something about who you are, what you want, and maybe what you’re insecure about.
I guess a certain amount of jealousy between work friends makes sense. I am certainly jealous of your ability to manage a million things at once, your problem-solving skills, your work wardrobe. Just tell me if you want me to go on...
Please do! But, thanks. I admire how little you care about what other people think. And, of course, your interviewing skills. We don’t actually work in the same office together — our work friendship is more about being each other’s boosters, particularly when one of us is outside of our comfort zone. We talk about work non-stop, but we make it really fun.
Like, say, while drinking bubbly in the park.
Ha! Bubbly is often involved when we’re off the clock.
You were an intern when we first met; now you are an executive editor. Does making work friends get harder as you become more senior?
It definitely does. When you become a manager, you aren’t friends with your direct reports and there are fewer people at your level in the hierarchy who you can form friendships with. I think it’s important to have meaningful relationships and camaraderie with your team, but it’s not the same as colleagues sneaking off together to gossip. Becoming a manager often coincides with a time when your social circle outside the workplace is shrinking. It makes you appreciate the friends you made earlier on. All those late nights working to meet a deadline or bitching about your boss — those are actually really important relationships and they’re worth as much care as any other.
Well cheers to work friends!