Here’s some advice for those of you who don’t like your job: Maybe your job is not your problem. Maybe it’s that you are not trying hard enough to make friends at work. People with one friend at work are much more likely to find their work interesting. And people with three friends at work are virtually guaranteed to be very satisfied with their life.
These are some of the findings Tom Rath reports in his new book, Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without. As a longtime Gallup employee, Rath draws on a massive number of interviews conducted by this polling organization.
Rath says a friend who can change your work environment is “someone you spend a lot of time in a relationship with. And you are probably making a difference in that person’s life, too. If the person were gone, work would be less fun.”
Nikhil Rajpal, at Project: Think Different identified a best friend at work immediately: “My friend Will and I go to lunch together every day. When work gets tough the friendship makes it easier to get through the day. When one of us is stressed or had too much work one of us buys the other coffee and we walk around and talk about it.”
Rath has identified eight different friendship roles. No single person can be all these roles at once, and the fatal flaw people make in relationships is asking that of one person — often a boss or a spouse.
A navigator, for example, is someone who is like a mentor. You don’t need to have regular conversations with the person, but when you do, they are very meaningful in your life. A connector is the type of friend made famous by Malcolm Gladwell, in The Tipping Point, for being able to give you a network. And a champion is the type of friend who thrives on your accomplishments and happiness.
The threshold for gaining the benefits of health and life satisfaction from friendship is three or four friends. Here are some steps to make those friends:
1. Identify someone appropriate.
“When I was in human resources I had a lot of confidential information, so it was no surprise that I became friends with the executive assistant for the CEO, who also had a lot of confidential information,” says Heather Mundell, career coach and author of the blog Dream Big.
2. Be open.
On the Internet, where ranting is de rigueur, it would seem that half of all workers are surrounded by idiots. This way of thinking will not find you friends. “We like to think we can size someone up in ten seconds. But often our opinions of people change over time,” says Mundell.
3. Make time for face-to-face contact.
“If someone stops by your cube and says do you have few minutes? It’s nice if you do. Be a good listener,” says Mundell. “Over time, problem solving together and venting will lead to building trust. You should stop by peoples’ cubes and shoot the breeze, too.”
4. Choose your surroundings carefully.
Find an office that encourages friendships — the structure of workspaces, the quality of common areas, the size of the well-stocked fridge — all these factors can contribute to making an office full of friendships. Rath found that you are three times more likely to have a close-knit workgroup if the physical environment makes it easy to socialize.
5. Find coworkers with shared vision and values.
This situation is probably most common at a nonprofit like Project: Think Different: “Everyone is linked together based on a passion for what we’re doing,” says, Raipal. “We all have a strong desire to change messages in pop culture.”
6. Shift your focus away from yourself.
“People spend so much time trying to manage themselves,” says Rath. Formal education focuses on mastery of topic areas, and graduate school allows you to focus on your own interests. But “when it comes to improving our lives,” writes Rath, “it’s the energy between two people that makes a difference.”
This is going to be a big change for most people. Most workers do not make friends at work. But without a best friend at work, the chances of being engaged in your job are slim. So maybe you should put aside advice about finding the perfect job by searching want ads for your calling. Instead, look for a job and an office that facilitate relationships; friendship is your calling.