On the heels of the Great Resignation, thousands of women are in the process of changing employers. But with the excitement of a new role and its challenges, there comes genuine trepidation about whether we’ll find supportive colleagues in our new jobs. As that first day approaches, you may find yourself asking, “what if they don’t like me?” and then, of course, “what if I don’t like them?” And it doesn’t matter whether you’ve been in the workforce for two years or twenty, developing a new support network–and even making new friends!–at work is a delicate process that requires presence, authenticity and patience.
This is especially true now that working from home is part of our reality. So how can you build solid new relationships if there are no chats by the coffee machine? Will colleagues be able to appreciate your sparkling personality through a flat-screen?
Some scoff at the importance of having close bonds with colleagues at work, claiming that it distracts employees and decreases productivity. But research reveals that having work friends has benefits, both professionally and personally, for both the employer and the employee.
According to Yale Professor Marissa King, strong personal ties at work lead to less stress and burnout, more idea sharing and innovation, increased engagement and improved work/life balance. The benefits are even more pronounced for women. One study found that the social aspect of a job is a “major reason” why women work. Furthermore, when women have friends at work, they are less likely to actively look for job opportunities and feel more confident in their role. They are also more likely to rate their organization positively.
Catherine Fisher, a LinkedIn career expert, explains it best, “Relationships matter because they help us feel connected, making us more motivated and productive.” The process of making those key connections is very similar to how we made friends when starting at a new school. And yes, that still includes bringing in treats to share.
First, remember to start slow. As much as you want to get right to the good part, solid relationships built on mutual respect and shared values, take time. Share stories about yourself, but also, be curious and ask questions. Give your new colleagues the opportunity to share stories about themselves, to organically reveal their values and potential common interests.
When you begin to develop affinities with some coworkers, suggest regular dates–even if you’re both just sipping coffee over a video conference once a week. Taking time to discuss favourite books, parenting challenges, or the series you binge-watched is as necessary to relationship-building as brainstorming sessions and building strategy decks together.
As a manager, you need to help new employees be accepted into the fold. To facilitate their integration with your existing team, you must create an environment where collaboration can develop and thrive.
Encourage open communication by building cross-functional or intergenerational teams. Organize team-building activities outside office hours. Promote non-work-related activities and actually attend some of them! You’re not required to join a pub conversation about everyone’s worst break-ups, but as a leader, culture starts with you. Showing that you’re friendly and accessible encourages employees to become more so.
Building close bonds at a new job rarely comes easy, but the rewards are worth the effort. If you’re feeling a little wary, remember the words of our co-founder, Isabelle Hudon about leaving one workplace for another: “You aren’t losing your network. You’re expanding it.”
Trust that as long as you show up, that supportive network will naturally spring up around you.