At this very time last year, I was embarking on a very exciting but scary time in my life – sending my youngest child off to college. I was entering into the infamous “empty nester” phase of my life. Now, although I can easily write multiple blog articles just about the shock and awe of it all, I’d rather focus more on how co-workers can play a role in those personal life events.
We don’t need to read a lot of articles to know that when employees have friends at work, they are happier workers. Happier workers lead to more job satisfaction. Check out this post’s take on this subject and how Zappos builds this into their culture:
After about a week off of work for the exhausting 20-hour drive to and from the University of Kansas and 20 trips up and down six flights of stairs, I came back to work a different person. Although I welcomed the distraction, I was sad and not 100% focused. When co-workers were ready to jump back into our to-do lists, all I wanted to do was text my son to see if he remembered to set his alarm for his 8am lecture.
What got me through the first few weeks at work was having those work friends to talk to. I was lucky to have many stop by my cube and ask how the move went, how I was holding up, and if my son really appreciated my obsession over matching bath towels. It felt good to blend my home life with my work one. After all, we spend a majority of our week with our work family vs. our real one.
Water-cooler talk is not unproductive wasted time at work
It’s probably the best-spent time from 9-5.
But, those work conversations don’t come easy or naturally. You don’t just walk into work on your first day and get assigned a BFF. That takes a lot of time and some effort from all those around you. I know, because before I started at Quill, I came from a company where I worked for 8 years and had lots of “work spouses”. When you start a new job, it’s like being back in high school looking for a spot at the “lunch table”. And, you so desperately want to find those 1 or 2 co-workers that you can run to screaming that your child missed his first college lecture. (See, I should have texted him.)
Work friendships take time, but there are little things we can do to grow them:
- Over lunch, don’t just talk about work. Talk about everything else but work: “Anyone been skiing lately?” “Did you catch last night’s episode of Game of Thrones?” “Has your son done his first load of laundry yet at college?” (The answer to that last question would be NO!)
- On Monday mornings, don’t just do the “Hi. How was your weekend?” drive-by. Really stop and acknowledge something about that person’s weekend you knew was happening. (“How did the move go with your parents?”)
- Take time for team-building exercises. They do a good job of allowing others to see you as a real person and find those one or two things you have in common. You ultimately become more relatable.
As I prepare to move my oldest off to live permanently in Los Angeles and my youngest back to college for his second year, I’ll come back to work knowing that someone will notice my red eyes and less-than-peppy step. Somehow it makes that to-do list a bit more bearable.
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