Close friendships are often formed when we are in school and college. The opportunity for meaningful and long-lasting connections becomes rarer as we enter the professional space. Schedules get fuller, and our time is reserved for family and the close friends we already have. While casual friendships with co-workers are common, it is not easy to find a confidant who will be your motivation, inspiration, cheerleader, partner, sounding board and emergency contact all rolled into one at work.
The term ‘work-spouse’ is often used for close workplace friendships, though many dislike it because of possible misinterpretation. But close work friends by any name, whether work-buddies, besties or BFFs, are significant to professional and personal growth. Several surveys have found employees experience increased job engagement, productivity and a greater sense of well-being because of close workplace friendships.
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Similarities and differences
Independent radiologist, Dr Monica Chhabra, consults with various Delhi hospitals and clinics, quickly making friends wherever she works because of her amiable nature. But she formed a special bond with gynaecologist Dr Reena Khandelwal whom she met six years ago. “We both are workaholics, value integrity and are passionate about our work. I have learned so much about gynaecology from her, which I would never have been able to in isolation as a radiologist. We have a great partnership, which has taught me so much,” says Chhabra.
While similarities help in bonding, differences can often aid in meaningful connections. A desire to learn from a co-worker’s admirable qualities can lead to professional and personal growth. “My work buddy also happens to be my boss,” says Shuja Bin Mehdi, a Delhi-based B2B manager for India at an international tourism board. “Though we are in different cities, he has been a considerable source of motivation. He is a perfectionist, and I am not. But even if you strive to be one, you start excelling at what you do. I admire his thoroughness and creative thinking.” Mehdi also appreciates his buddy’s encouragement and trust, highlighting the safe and non-competitive nature of their relationship.
In them, we trust
While our spouses and personal friends are an integral part of our lives, the highs and lows of our professional lives are often understood best by co-workers. Work besties support, listen, provide a safe space to vent and offer objective advice to each other.
“My work buddy is a fellow colleague in the sales team who has worked with me for eight years,” says Shivangi Agarwal, a Delhi-based marketing lead at a technology firm. “I can confide in him about work challenges, get an independent perspective about a situation and genuine feedback on my work. Over time, we have developed mutual trust and also discuss vulnerabilities or sensitive issues without worrying that they will be divulged to the world. With my work buddy, I feel a sense of safety, empathy and support.” Agarwal adds that she has benefited from the difference in male and female perspectives, which gives her a more balanced outlook. “I am emotionally attached to my work, and my work buddy sometimes helps me to detach from a harsh comment and not let it affect me personally.”
Anupama Mehra, principal at a senior secondary school under the Navy Education Society in Goa, values the institution’s vice-chairman as a friend and mentor. “There are no stress points with him around. I am at ease,” she says. “His honesty and thoroughness are admirable. He really listens. When I joined three years ago, he helped me settle in and understand the ways of the armed forces, the paperwork and administrative processes.”
Beyond the office
Many professional relationships develop into personal friendships. Beyond their work partnership, Khandelwal, obstetrician-gynaecologist at Delhi’s Khandelwal Clinic, credits Chhabra with being a great emotional support, particularly since a life-changing event in 2019. “My son was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, and I have struggled to cope. Monica has been my rock and helped me up from my lowest point,” says Khandelwal, adding that Chhabra calls her every morning for a chat even though they see each other often.
“I don’t like calling people, but for Dr Reena, I make the exception,” says Chhabra, who received the same support last year during the brutal second wave when her whole family got covid-19. “I was overwhelmed with multiple family members admitted in hospital, but Dr Reena was with me even though it was such a risky time to be in a hospital.” Apart from helping each other through stressful times, they take great joy in each other’s company, shopping, exchanging fashion notes and socializing.
Mehdi ends up bonding with his buddy over their parenting journeys. “When have spent time together with our families. We share advice with each other on raising kids and how to be the best parents while dealing with our own specific sets of challenges.”
Though the pandemic may have impacted in-person interactions, many work-buddy bonds have withstood the stress and distance. “We have always been based in different cities and developed a great relationship despite this. It was fun trying to find creative ways to connect with each other and the rest of the team,” says Mehdi.
For Mehra, virtual communication did not diminish the connection, while Agarwal has derived the same motivation and value even though her work buddy is now in a different city.“Having a work buddy really helps you deal with whatever challenges come up in competitive workplaces,” says Mehdi.
However stressful our professional and personal lives may get, the people in our corner keep us going. “It makes a lot of difference to how you tide over the highs and lows of your work life. It is always better to have a close circle of colleagues and specifically that one person to confide in than to have neutral relationships with many,” says Agarwal.
Khandelwal and Chhabra highlight the most significant value of the work-buddy relationship. “I love going to work because I have people like Dr Reena who are as passionate about our work and having fun,” says Chhabra. “There are never Monday blues for Monica and me,” Khandelwal adds.