One of the lessons the pandemic has taught us as women is that our workplace friendships are as essential to our success as technological tools are. After a year, how we relate to our friends is changing permanently due to more remote working and technology.
In talking with colleagues and friends, as well as reading what experts are saying now, at least four lessons surfaced about getting and keeping workplace friendships:
As a member of The Menninger Clinic’s Lean In Circle, a community for women founded by the executive and author Sheryl Sandberg, we asked our peers about how their friendships have fared during the pandemic. Their responses underscored that workplace friendships have given them positive energy and deeply meaningful connection during a period of greater stress and isolation.
This relational energy, as well as the capacity to understand your own mind as well as your friend’s mind, elevates emotional well-being. Connecting with a friend decreases the stress hormone cortisol and increases the brain’s production of oxytocin. Combined with encouragement from a friend, it’s easier to tackle challenges and that mountain of tasks for your job.
Friendships at work serve as “a buffer between yourself and the fallout of the stress of work…. Having that buffer improves a person’s ability to cope, manage under pressure, and enjoy the place (where) you work,” according to neuropsychologist and author Hannah Korrel, PhD.
Ashley LeMaire, PhD, ABPP, a neuropsychologist at Menninger, says, “I think my workplace friendships have been strengthened by the pandemic, as these were the people outside of my home that I mostly interacted with. We text quite a bit to keep in touch, and we include each other in virtual baby showers, birthday celebrations, happy hours, and we reach out about professional issues.”
Patricia Daza, PhD, a Menninger psychologist, noted, “I can share the things that make me happy as well as the things that bring me stress. Yet, through it all, we can support each other in the process.” One of her besties, another Menninger psychologist, has been “great friends” with Dr. Daza for over 15 years. “In that span, we have been married, had children, changed positions in the organization, and through it all, she has helped me navigate aspects of my career as well as things like my son’s schools.”
How do you keep the connections alive and thrive in the “new normal” of working from home or a hybrid situation?
Continue to celebrate birthdays on video platforms or video chat. Reach out by phone or text when there are losses, changes, or conflicts. Simple interactions can give you “a breath of fresh air during the workdays when you feel like you are drowning,” says Lacey Tezino, who manages Menninger’s Information Technology department. “I value the refuge we can be for each other in the work ‘storms.’”
“I have appreciated my friends even more during the pandemic,” says Angela Koreth, MS, LPC-S, who manages an outpatient clinic for Menninger. “I try to love on them more from afar; send care packages when I can. I have to be more intentional to check in on them, whereas before, I’d just pop into their offices.”
When you miss the lunchroom interactions, like we have this year, it requires more rigorous and diligent effort to fill the gap of those spontaneous hallway chats. Use your chat functions to touch base with those you miss debriefing with about your favorite Netflix series. Just getting a thumbs-up emoji or even the briefest yet timely reply will keep connections alive.
On the flip side, for some women, a remote workplace has become a welcome change in recalibrating their work-life balance. Or in my case (Mrs. Trowbridge), after the initial couple of months of adjusting to working from home for the first time in my 40-year career, I felt more productive in my marketing role. Thanks to the greater use of technology during the pandemic, women can expand their tribe as new colleagues come on board.
It’s not surprising that Gallup, which measures workplace engagement, found that having friends at work is particularly important to women. “The research is extremely clear that having friends at work has benefits,” says Marissa King of the Yale School of Management.
“I met my two best friends when I started my career working in a psychiatric hospital 20 years ago, and I absolutely treasure those relationships because of how special they are,” explains Jaime Lovelace, MSN, BSN, RN-BC, a psychiatric nurse at Menninger. “One of the housekeepers I worked in the past with who I consider a friend from work sent me several texts over the last year to ask how my family was doing, although we haven’t worked together in over a decade.”
That’s the best outcome for women in careers — forever friendships.