A few years ago, I had a conversation with a coworker that has stuck in my mind ever since. It was about the difference between work friends and “real” friends. Her opinion was that work friends were temporary friends – when you changed jobs, any friendships made at your previous employment were dissolved. I found that perspective a little perplexing, maybe because I don’t categorize my friends or maybe because I don’t call just anybody my friend. Some are acquaintances; some are colleagues; and some truly are friends. True to her word though, as soon as she left the company we never spoke again. No emails returned, even Linked In requests were refused.
When you’ve worked at the same company for a few years, friendships do develop on many levels. It may be one or two people you have lunch with regularly, but sometimes relationships extend beyond the workplace. Being part of a social group at work, participating in golf events, dragon boat racing, major fundraising events, even corporate Toastmasters club meetings, often facilitates the development of friendships. As time goes by, if you haven’t met every member of their family, you’ve certainly heard enough about them to feel you know them as well.
Work friendships can be very beneficial. They can develop into trusted confidantes, an outlet for our frustrations, as well as an often well-needed perspective on situations.
When people move on though, things change, especially if it wasn’t their choice to move on. HR departments usually send out notices of organizational changes, along with dire warnings not to communicate any further with the person or discuss any matters that are confidential or proprietary. For many people, this is where the friendship dissolves.
Now imagine you’ve been part of a company for several years. You’ve helped it grow and transition from a small, family business, to a larger, international company. Then one day you leave. Maybe you’ve retired, maybe you’ve taken a different job, or maybe the company has restructured and your position become redundant. Whatever the reason, can you imagine how it will feel if the closest friends you’ve made in the company suddenly shunned you. It’s as if you’ve become a pariah – persona non grata. Dropped like a hot potato. What an awful experience that must be and what awful friends you must have. These must be the kind of friends my previous co-worker had experienced, and on which she formed her opinion and built her walls to protect herself from the sting of that type of rejection.
If I have someone I’ve been friends with for several years at work who is now in this situation, I absolutely will pick up the phone or send an email to ask how they’re doing. I will meet them again for lunch or dinner, and discuss what they’re up to these days, how they’re managing, how I miss them. I will NOT discuss confidential, proprietary company business. Boundaries need to be set and respected, but that doesn’t mean you can’t discuss personal events. You can and should reach out if you were any kind of friend. For many people, this can help smooth the transition. Changing jobs is a major life event and can be extremely stressful. If you’ve been good friends and shared confidences with someone, it’s actually insulting if you can’t or won’t do this. The friendship may eventually fade as time goes on and life paths evolve and change, but at least you were there to help with the transition.
As a friend.