Friends At Work

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Can you ever really be friends with your co-workers?

I don’t blame Kim Cattrall for deciding she doesn’t want to do another Sex and the City movie – and I applaud her for stating, without apology, that she was never friends with her co-stars.

SATC2 was, well, thin (did the whole thing just revolve around a shopping trip to Dubai, I can’t quite remember?), and, while there’s no doubt in the potential of a reboot to allow us to forget that rather forgettable episode, how many of us want to go back to a company we worked at many years ago, even when it’s a channel to happy working memories?

We move on. Why shouldn’t Kim?

And why do we expect people who portray friends at work to be friends at work? We don’t expect people who play lovers to be lovers (though, of course, are thrilled when this transpires to be the case). We know the casts of reality shows are usually no friends at all, most barely maintaining a vestige of frenemy at best.

We’re thrown together at work because of other people’s choices, not ours. Friendship is, fundamentally, all about choice.

Not that we don’t choose to become friends with people we meet at work. For a lot of people, their only friends are those they’ve met through work. Work friendships often have a shelf-life, though.

Driven by circumstance, changes in circumstance (like one of you leaving) can result in a diminishing common ground – those meet-ups where after the ‘how’s it all going then’ and ‘seen anyone from the old days then’ strands of conversation dry up there isn’t much else to be said and everyone drinks up and leaves.

Matters of hierarchy can be problematic in any friendship. For friendships at work, hierarchy, and particularly changes in hierarchical status, can also reduce the friendship’s shelf-life considerably. Having to give your once working equal an appraisal, or instructions, or directions, or orders, or a telling off, is bound to put a strain on all but the most open and deep-rooted friendships.

Even when we’re workplace equals, most workplaces operate on a warped Darwinian philosophy of ‘survival of the fittest’, meaning we’re all in direct competition with each other at all times. When it comes to which line gets the strikethrough on the spreadsheet, popularity, as well as productivity, counts.

Would you sacrifice your job for a friend at work, if it came down to it? I’d love to hear from anyone who has. Call me cynical, but I feel it could be a long wait.

You can’t blame people. We’ve all got to eat. Maybe that’s why ‘the others’ are rather piqued with Kim Cattrall. They’ve got bills to pay. Another blockbuster SATC movie would certainly help. But Kim’s not responsible for them (for what it’s worth, I would centre the movie around the death of Samantha Jones, I think they could do something really compelling and interesting with that, the ‘girls’ as fifty-somethings facing their mortality – “you can’t take those shoes with you, Carrie…”).

The great friendships that come about through work are usually down to one of two things: luck, or a great workplace culture. In those rare environments where everyone feels valued, respected, listened to, able to be themselves, able to speak up, equal as human beings first and foremost, meaningful and lasting friendships can flourish (because everything flourishes in an environment like that).

But it also worth remembering, for some people, they like the separation, work-life and home-life, private and public, social and professional, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

There’s no policy that says you have to be friends with your colleagues. Civil and respectful, yes, that should be the policy, but there’s no reason you should necessarily have anything in common beyond or outside of work, and that shouldn’t be an obstacle either, should it?

It can be though. When recruiters are selecting against ‘cultural fit’, are they assessing whether they think you’ll operate effectively within the team or be ‘one of the team’?

Probably, in most cases, they’re doing both, but this is hugely problematic too – after all, being seen as likely to easily become ‘one of the team’ may mean that any ‘differences’ you have will be seen as a barrier to this.

It’s not just SMEs that be can be prone to this; ‘matey’, ‘cliquey’ or ‘partisan’ monocultures appear in all kinds of workplaces, in massive corporates as well as ‘three chairs and a french bulldog’ start-ups. People get in the door because they’re “one of us.”

I think the bottom line, as Kim Cattrall and Sex and the City illustrates so perfectly, is that it doesn’t matter. Sex and the City was a great show, a great product, a great enterprise. The cast not hanging out and supping Cosmopolitans together out of hours wasn’t detrimental to it, was it?

We don’t need to be friends at work. It’s wise to be mindful, and alert to, changes in circumstance at work that could test any friendships; it’s wise to be mindful people at work are more likely to be your friend on the way up than down. And, if at that interview you get a sense that the culture feels matey, cliquey or partisan (or you look around and everybody looks the same), if you can, you might want to keep looking.

It’s a cruel world. We would all benefit from being a little friendlier to one another, wherever we find ourselves. But we’re also our best selves when we’re true to ourselves, and I for one think it’s far healthier to be friendly yet clearly not ‘friends’ with people at work if that’s your inclination, rather than fake it. Nothing is more hurtful, or toxic, than a false friendship.

Good for Kim Cattrall that she didn’t feel the need to keep acting once the cameras stopped rolling. I’ve always liked her. I like her even more now. Samantha Jones, as we knew her, is dead. Long live Samantha Jones!

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