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Frolleagues: Why Friendships at Work Matter

Written by: Laura Baecher
Published on: Mar 7, 2022

group of happy colleagues
Photo credit: Jacob Wackerhausen/iStockphoto

In an earlier blog I suggested that our strengths and skills in the professional sphere are interconnected with our personal growth and development, and that admonitions to separate the personal from the professional may not be realistic or helpful. In making the case for the interconnectedness of our personal skills and achievements with our professional ones, I focused on our growth as individuals. In this blog I want to further explore the strong connection between personal and professional development not through an individual perspective, but through the lens of friendship. In our increasingly displaced workspaces, colleagues who are friends are more important than ever in our professional and personal development.

The term “frolleagues” was originally coined to refer to coworkers who “friend” others on social media. Little more than 10 years ago, warnings were issued about the potential risks to privacy and one’s reputation when this boundary of professional (colleague) and personal (friend) is crossed. However, due to a number of factors, including the extended amount of time we spend on work or at work, the use of social media as a communication tool, and the challenges in finding time to get together with or meet friends as adults in our daily lives, frolleagues have become lifelines.

Colleagues who meet at work may initially become friends through bonding over issues like a problematic administrator, challenging classes to teach, or a lack of resources. Trust is deepened through mutual support and shared understandings. Time spent together on the job—which often exceeds time we spend with people outside of work—morphs into strong connections because of consistent opportunities for interaction. Closeness then builds with the coworkers we may have more in common with than friends outside of our profession.   When we don’t have workplace friendships, we will likely lack “structural support, which is ‘the ability to ask someone to cover for you when you’re in a bind,’ and emotional support, which is having someone who can talk you through stress, change, or anxiety” (Gallo, 2015).

Research on job satisfaction and productivity also points to the benefits of workplace friendships. Globoforce (2014) reports:

It is hard to underestimate the impact our co-workers have on the experience of working for a company. Those connections can energize or destroy the quality of our work lives. They also strongly impact how we look back at our career and achievements. They inspire and motivate us. They bring us closer to our companies, and they make us want to stay.

The pandemic of the past 2 years has made this sort of closeness and sense of connection to our workplaces more difficult to foster. While this could mean there is more time in our homes and for our families, it can be useful to remember the importance a sense of belonging has on our sense of identity as TESOL educators. Brower (2021) notes that we are wired as humans to seek social connections, and that our workplace friendships are truly essential to our overall well-being by creating the possibility of meaningful interactions that sustain and nurture our growth.

So how can we build on the relationships we have with colleagues so that they become sustaining friendships? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Create or engage with groups at work. This could be participating in that brown-bag lunch series, setting up a WhatsApp conversation group, or starting up your own book club. These can lead to getting to know people in other divisions and decreasing “bureaucracy and red tapism.”
  2. Set up a social event. Morning coffee rituals, Wednesday lunches, or a monthly night out are all ways to connect and develop friendships with colleagues. Consider reaching out to people in other departments and ask them to bring someone along. It can start by just reaching out to one or two coworkers and getting some time together on the calendar.
  3.  Stay social even when remote. Taking a few minutes before a web conferencing meeting begins, staying afterwards, and asking people about how they are and really listening can transcend the digital disconnect and nurture workplace relationships even from afar.

As adults, creating and furthering workplace friendships can fall on the list of priorities as we devote time to completing work, our families, and our outside commitments. The benefits, however, to our sense of community and our professional energy depends on them. This week, reach out to a frolleague and let us know how it felt!

About Laura Baecher

Dr. Laura Baecher is professor of TESOL at Hunter College, City University of New York. Her research interests and publications relate to teacher education, including educational technology in teacher learning, observation and coaching for English language teaching, and professional development in TESOL. Her recent books are Reflecting on Problems of Practice in TESOL and Video in Teacher Learning: Through their Own Eyes. She has served as TESOL International Association’s Teacher Education Interest Section chair, as an English language specialist for the U.S. Department of State, and as president of the New York State TESOL affiliate.

View all posts by Laura Baecher →

This post first appeared on the TESOL Blog. Reprinted with permission.