Revealed: Three-quarters of Britons have turned professional relationships into lifelong friendships

Study reveals how many Britons have a ‘work husband’ or ‘work wife’

The average full-time worker in the UK clocks 37 hours per week*, but just how well do we know the person sat across from us, or those who say “good morning” while making a brew?

Business telecommunications provider, 4Com recently looked into Britons attitudes towards their co-workers** to reveal just how willing the nation is to create meaningful friendships and relationships with those they spend so much time with day-to-day.

While a quarter (25%) of workers admit to not making lifelong friends with a work colleague, three quarters (75%) have taken their professional relationships to the next level and developed friendships with a co-worker.

When asked why they’ve never made meaningful friendships with their co-workers, the top five reasons were:

1. They’re there to a job, not make friends (39%)
2. They have nothing in common with the people they work with (25%)
3. They don’t want to be reminded/speak about work when outside of work (18%)
4. It can cause a lot of drama (16%)
5. They already have a lot of friends outside of work and don’t need anymore (13%)

For the 75% who have broken the professional barrier however, the study investigated if the friendship makes them more productive at work. The top three reasons were:

1. It makes them enjoy their job more (72%)
2. They can always rely on them if anything goes wrong (38%)
3. It makes getting out of bed in the morning much easier (36%)

The research also explored the reasons we might choose to merge work friends with other friendship groups or why we would choose to keep the two worlds separate.

Two fifths (40%) said they’d be happy to combine the two due to both parties being easy to get along with. For one in five (21%) it’s an easy merge thanks to their similar interests, and one in seven (15%) choose to bring the two together for their own convenience.

Of those who always keep their friendship groups apart, 5% are worried one will feel left out, 5% think their interests are too different and 13% say they prefer to keep their professional and personal lives separate.

But, could this need for separating the two elements of our lives be down to the fact that nearly half (41%) of UK workers who have made lifelong friendships with co-workers, have a colleague they refer to as their “work wife” or “work husband”?

The top three reasons for this “work-spouse” relationship are:

1. I trust them with my secrets (17%)
2. They make me smile and laugh (13%)
3. I have a lot in common with them (12%), we argue like husband and wife (12%)

With a large majority of UK workers having made meaningful relationships with co-workers, Dr Elena Touroni, of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic comments on the development of these relationships: “It’s easy to feel like you’re going through a connecting experience with your colleagues when you’re constantly problem solving and finding solutions and it’s an effective way to boost productivity. When we develop friendships, there is more positive energy and we build a support system making it an environment you enjoy being in and therefore are more willing to get your work done.

“When it comes to those naming each other their “work wife” or “work husband”, these kinds of relationships should be managed with caution. There is a very fine line that can easily be crossed when there’s vulnerability in one’s existing relationship with their partner.

Those who have experienced a shift to friendship or relationship with a co-worker describe how it happened for them:

Liv, a PR Account Director from London, and Chantelle, Owner and Founder of Oriani & Co, a luxury fashion brand:

Liv says: “I met Chantelle on her first day of work at Weber Shandwick. My boyfriend had broken up with me the day before, completely out of the blue, and the last thing I wanted to do was take the new girl out for lunch and make small talk! Chantelle and I immediately hit it off, and in the space of an hour, we both knew each other’s life stories and she went on to help me through a really difficult time.”

“Since that day, we spent every breakfast and lunch together for over two years. Chantelle has now left Weber Shandwick to pursue her own business, but we still speak every day and meet up as much as possible. Work of course, just isn’t the same without her.”

Stefanie Hopkins, Brighouse, West Yorkshire, founder and managing director of Faith PR: “I met Carl in 2004 when I worked as an account manager at the marketing agency he owned in Leeds. I didn’t have much to do with him on a daily basis until I was put in charge of organising the company’s 21st birthday bash and had to work more closely with him.

Soon after, he threw a party at his house for his 40th birthday and invited us all. On the way home, I texted a colleague to say how much I liked Carl but accidentally sent it to him. When he replied: “What are you talking about?” I was mortified and confessed. He didn’t reply, and I was in a huge panic that my job would be on the line.

To my surprise, a few days later he invited me to have lunch with him and then for dinner at his house. For several months we kept things quiet but eventually our relationship was outed when a colleague spotted me getting out of Carl’s car one morning.

Some colleagues treated me differently, others were shocked by the 13 years age difference, but thankfully friends were supportive. We got married in July 2007 and have two children together.”

Commenting on the research, Mark Pearcy, Head of Marketing at 4Com, said: “We spend a lot of time with our colleagues, more so than with our other friends and family, so it’s nice to see we’re building strong and meaningful relationships with these people. It’s also lovely to hear so many of us are merging friends with our work friends and that these relationships are making people more productive while at work.”

To find out more or learn how you can make the best of workplace friendships, head to:

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