Losing a Friend at Work (Friends in HR Places)

If you work in HR, you know it can be hard to form close friendships at work, especially in a small HR department, because you know too many secrets.  It can be hard to form sincere, meaningful friendships when you have access to everyone’s pay and performance information, when you know who’s struggling, who’s sleeping with whom, who has accused whom of what; and you have to be fair and impartial and all that.

And at the same time, we are all familiar with Gallup research indicating that one of twelve indicators of  strong ‘engagement’ is having a good or best friend at work. I feel a strong connection with several co-workers, but with rare exceptions, we don’t socialize outside of work. I’m friendly with lots of people, but I don’t have many true friends in the office.

Working in HR can be lonely.

About five years ago at a job fair, I started talking with two other nonprofit social services HR people, Liberty and Amy, and we quickly became fast friends, meeting every month or two for lunch. We’d get some good food and vent, chat, share our family stories, vent, celebrate birthdays, talk about our husbands and kids, vent, enjoy some time together, share what we were doing in our HR departments.

Between our lunches, we e-mailed each other back and forth, asking for advice and suggestions on HR issues.

I enjoyed our lunches more than I could describe. Every get-together was so gratifying and energizing that I likened it to a mini spa vacation. I loved how we supported each other through challenges, though  probably–in retrospect–I did inevitably take them for granted just a bit, thinking I would always have them in my life.

After five years of semi-regular lunches, I was taken aback when in the space of three weeks, first Amy and then Liberty announced they’d accepted new jobs. And not just any new jobs, but jobs in the corporate world.

They’re leaving me.

Of course we can still be friends. And we will. But realistically, I know they will be caught up and busy in their new roles and the likelihood we’ll continue to get together on such a regular basis is slim.

I feel sadness and something akin to grief. I am losing my best friends at work and will need to find another way to meet the very human need for friendship and support.

I’m wondering how other HR pros feel about the friendship issue. Are you able to form deep, meaningful friendships in the office? If so, how? If not, how do you meet your need for friendships at work?

photo by  McBeth

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