Friday, June 11, 2021

Friendships Of Convenience

A comment Ed had yesterday about the nature of how working from home had an impact on the concept and practice of work friendships got me to thinking about the nature of work friendship in general.

It is odd. The concept, when I first entered the workforce, was probably similar to a lot of people in my age bracket: formed by television or schooling, the concept was that you would form friends at work with whom you would end up being friends with for years.  This was what entertainment and literature stated the workforce was like.

Over time, however, I found it was different.

To be fair, it was probably in transition even as I was getting my first post-college career job.  The world of the long term, single employer was dying, replaced by the short term, multiple company career person.  Practically, to be more willing to move from job to job often made one more promotable.  

One would have liked to believe that even though people moved about, contact would be maintained.  That was how it was, right?  That is how friendship worked.  You spent hours and hours and hours with people - years sometimes - so even though you were no longer working together, the relationship would hold together, right?  And as technology continued to bloom and grow it became even more convenient to keep in touch with each other - was that not correct?

To both points, it turns out I was in the wrong.

The progression was the same. I have seen it many times now.  Initially you speak with the person fairly regularly, catching up with how things are going at their new job and at the old one, and how their families are doing, etc.  Then within three months, the contact dwindles as you both get busy and have less in common.  Within a year, 90% of the contact is cut off.  You may reach out if you read something significant happening at their job, or they at yours.  But it is only once in a while.

I checked my phone today.  Of 74 numbers I had saved, almost 40%, or 28 numbers, were employees I had worked with, sometimes 40+ hours a week.  A handful of those are people still at the company.  Of the rest, I bet I have not heard from most of them within 6 months or more - if I do not reach out to them, they will not call.

What this taught me, over a long period where I started out believing otherwise, is that work friendships are largely friendships of convenience.  You are friends because at some level you are spending so much time together.  Remove that enforced contact, and suddenly there is little enough to hold you together.

The current job has finally put all of that to rest for me, clarifying something I have been slowly learning over the last few years:  Work is for work.  Friendships are for friendships.  The firmest friendships will never built on something as fleeting as a job.


  1. When you race with rats… it is what it is I suppose.

    I am an oddity in my family. I only have about 3 or 4 good friends. It’s all I have time for, it’s all that I want. I don’t have time for any more. My parents and brother though, are cool kids that attend all the social gatherings and regularly host their own… and they get hacked right off at me because I seldom attend.

    I don’t want to be one of the cool kids and in truth, I tend to despise them.

    1. Glen, I do not know that I had ever dispassionately considered the way I have until Ed's comment made me look at my phone and realize how many phone numbers I had of recent coworkers that I simply no longer talked to.

      Like you, I have really 3 good friends, all of which I have known since high school. Oddly enough, the one's from college never stuck, the one's from work we have discussed, and the other ones from associations or church have been - in many ways - similar to my work relationships: when the association ends, the relationship seems to drift apart.

      To be fair, I am a great deal of a homebody and, like you, scarcely attend any social gatherings.

  2. I have nothing to add other than have a blessed weekend!

  3. I need to start writing my comments in notepad. The 'net just ate my homework.

    Great post, I agree.

    1. STxAR, I have had the same issue in the past. Sometimes - and certain sites seem prone to it - I have taken to control C copying my comments prior to entering them. Just in case.

  4. The only exception I have seen to this is when co-workers retire at the same time and stay in the same area. I know quite a number of these who remain friends well into old cootness.

    If you take away the Book of Face in which I stay in touch with a few former co-workers, I probably have exactly zero good friends. I know lots of people whom I enjoy hanging out with when opportunity presents but none of them would ever specifically create a get together (nor would I) to just hang out with each other. The closest to that I have is belonging to a gourmet club with four other couples, all of whom are 20 to 30 years my senior. Because I quite working young, I probably have to wait until I reach traditional retirement age before I will meet a "peer" who enjoys my company enough to intentionally hang out.

    1. Ed, I think that is a fair statement. It was true of my father and my mother. In my father's case he has outlived most of his work contemporaries; my mother's memory was outlived by her coworkers.

      I understand your second comment - in my case, my friends are all halfway across the country so I see them infrequently (certainly much more this last year than in the last 11!). And I wonder how much the concept of "hanging out" applies at our age - usually for me, it is the context of doing something. Perhaps to your point, only the good friends are the ones I "hang out" with on a whim.

  5. Oh wow, there is so much we could talk about on this topic. I couldn’t imagine life without friends. I’m an introvert and not an overly social person as that would commonly be described. Gatherings of more than 10-12 make me extremely self-conscious and uneasy. But dinner with a couple of friends or a beer with a buddy? I’m all about that. What I learned way too late in life is that men get to know each other doing activities or hobbies together. My hobbies (reading, writing, playing piano) are more in isolation, so I’m trying to develop one or two that will allow me to do them with friends.As to your original point about work and friends, I mostly agree, although I’ve maintained some work friendships long term. Good post and good food for thought! Thanks.

    1. Bob - I, too, am an introvert and to be honest, gatherings over six make me nervous. I do enjoy smaller gatherings (on occasion, and in moderate amounts). The catch about men relating around activities or hobbies is a good one and one, which if I think about it a bit, is very much true.

      My hobbies - reading, writing, Iai, weight training, gardening, cheesemaking - are also done largely in isolation. Iai and throwing (when I did it more) are activities that are at some level done in groups - but I don't know that I would call the folks in the groups friends so much as acquaintances or "Buddies" (I think the term works there).

      You are quite welcome!


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