Career Genius: A Regular Checklist for Improving Your Work Life
Making the right work friends; how to get personal without prying
Work buddies are like school friends: Fall into the wrong crowd, and your path can swerve southward. Becoming besties with a tired-and-over-it manager might tank your attitude, while friendship with the head of the company volunteer group might socially engage you.
“Some friendships are very positive in terms of performance, motivation and loyalty to the organization,” says Hilla Dotan, a professor of organizational behavior at Tel-Aviv University’s Coller School of Management.
Now that in-person time is returning for many of us, it’s a good time to assess your work relationships and how they might help or hurt your career — and your emotional well-being. Dotan traced the types of friendships and their pitfalls:
Trust friends. Think of these as real-dear friends, both personally and professionally beneficial. “These start because coworkers trust each other professionally, and that leads to a very trusting relationship on a personal level,” Dotan says. Expect increased workplace happiness, satisfaction, performance, good citizenship and team commitment.
Instrumental friends. Social climbing, at work. “This is befriending someone who you think could advantage you,” Dotan says. “Thinking about friendships strategically is always kind of dangerous.” Does the “friend” courting you for your contacts really care about you? No. And these friends are also not building a true social community at work.
Sanity check friends. “Someone to go to for advice,” Dotan says. Like, ‘I think my boss is out of line. What do you think?’” These friendships are strong and cognitively-based, and can boost job satisfaction, as long as the vibe is upbeat.
Missing piece friends. The parent or son you never had. “These are people who form friendships that satisfy a missing role in their life,” Dotan says. This explains friendships between very old and young, which is unusual elsewhere. These relationships will keep you engaged at work and enmeshed in your team, and can be personally fulfilling, but beware that these friendships can sometimes trump the job, and decrease your overall commitment to the organization.
Proximity friends. You’re friends because you’re both there. These are the weakest relationships, based on happenstance rather than you, but as you’d expect, smiles from coworkers are better than nothing.
“I suggest that people really think about friendships carefully, and remember that not all are good for you,” Dotan says. “Outside work, we may go with our intuition, but at work, we need to be more aware of the effects of these friendships, and make sure that a friendship is good for you personally and professionally, because they can really impact your career.”
Take your cell number with you
Did you know that when you leave a job, you can take your work cell number with you? You can. HR people are accustomed to executives making the request. Negotiate it into your departure paperwork with the company. It’s legitimately part of your professional identity, and you can always port it to a service like Google Voice until you have a new work line set up.
How to ask about teammates’ private lives
If you don’t check in with teammates about their pandemic lives, they’re going to think you don’t care. But how do you do it without prying or running afoul of labor law? Longtime HR executive Daisy Dowling, author of “Workparent,” says you want to convey openness and interests. She suggests going with open-ended questions like:
—How are things going outside of work for you?
—We’ve got big goals for 2021. How do you think that’s going to fit into your life?
—How’s life been for you over the last couple months?
—I haven’t talked much about this, but the last six months of pandemic eldercare have been a doozy. How are things for you?
Talking about your own life opens the door for others to do so, Dowling says. Parents will invariably welcome the interest. “All parents are living a unique challenge,” she says. Don’t ask about specifics like “How are your elderly parents?” and definitely not “Are you planning to have another child?” Allow coworkers to express their whole selves, but on their own terms.
The secret to a high-flying life
For the last nine years, Rob Cross, a professor of global leadership at Babson College, has studied the lives of high performers who top the charts on measures of life satisfaction, resilience, thriving and psychological well-being. There’s a secret: Those who are blossoming (versus struggling) enjoy active hobbies and community lives.
“They’re engaged with at least two or three groups outside of work,” Cross says. “One tends to be around physical activity, and then others can be around spiritual things like church, intellectual pursuits, or things like art, music and poetry. And friend groups can be quite a hobby.” The danger years are the late 30s and 40s, when busy overachievers tend to drift away from their hobbies. Staying engaged, Cross says, also correlates with fewer health declines.