By Kate Bradley
All relationships are based on something; for coworkers, that’s usually (only) work. If your work friends are people you really want to remain in your life, extend the base of your friendships to include non-work activities.
You spend 40 hours per week at work, so it makes sense to form friendships there. Chatting at the water cooler turns into lunch turns into after-work drinks, and before you know it your work buddies are an integral part of your social life. But then you get a better offer. There’s a tearful goodbye party with vows to keep in touch and hang out all the time. You’re “the new girl” once more and just when you need your old work friends, they seem strangely distant. You’re left feeling confused, kinda lonely, and maybe even a little bit miffed at these “friends” of yours.
Sound familiar? We’re not surprised. It’s extremely common for women to change jobs and watch the friendships they formed with former coworkers undergo dramatic change or simply fade away. The experience can be particularly hurtful for women who enjoyed longtime coworker friendships that extended beyond happy hour and into more personal outings like double dates and family events. The question is: What can you do?
Diversify. Do not rely exclusively on work friends to satisfy your social needs. If you do, you risk the pain and difficulty of having to “start over” socially whenever you change jobs and place severe limitations on your ability to meet new people. Your social circle should be wide and varied; for example, yoga class pals, fellow church or club members, gym buddies and neighbors. Jobs come and go; you need people in your life that are in it for the long haul.
Strengthen your bond. All relationships are based on something; for coworkers, that’s usually (only) work. If your work friends are people you really want to remain in your life, extend the base of your friendships to include non-work activities. Join the same gym, enroll in a class together, or play on the same softball team. You become not just coworkers, but workout buddies, classmates and/or teammates. If one of you changes jobs, the friendship can more easily survive.
Communicate. Many women make the mistake of believing all those goodbye-party promises and end up pretty disappointed. Sure, your work friends mean well, but life always intervenes. Instead of swearing you’ll all hit happy hour at least once a week (generally unrealistic, especially during your new job’s training period), email all your work friends and let them know you hope to have lots of face time after you leave. Keep the lines of communication open, but remember: You can’t force anyone to be a friend. Those who want to keep in touch will do so.
Use your support network. A new job is an inherently stressful transitional period. Since your former coworkers may be feeling a little alien to you at the moment, reach out to other people in your life. Lean on your non-work friends, significant other, family, therapist, pastor and any other trusted contacts for help and support. Talk about how you’re feeling with someone you’re close to. If you’re feeling lonely, tag along on your sister’s shopping trip or have dinner with your mom.
Adjust your expectations. Once you change jobs, your schedule changes too. A longer or shorter commute, different hours and an entirely different location means you may be less available for socializing. It’s easy to feel excluded when old coworkers continue their hangout habits and you can’t make it. Preempt feelings of isolation by scheduling times to hang out that work for everyone. Plan a Saturday lunch every couple of weeks to catch up and relax together away from work. Make a “No shop talk” rule so everyone can contribute to and feel included in the conversation.
Embrace the new. Life goes on regardless of where you work. While it’s important to nurture your friendships, don’t let yourself be held back by the past. A new job offers myriad new social opportunities and you don’t want to miss out because you’re waiting for your old coworkers to call. Put a positive spin on your new situation; whether you quit, were fired or got laid off, believe that good things are in store.
Seeing friendships change after leaving a job can be uncomfortable and disappointing, but it’s important to focus your attention on new opportunities rather than lost connections. Fill any free time between your old and new jobs by volunteering, working on a project or even taking a short vacation. Keep your mind occupied with thoughts of all the positive changes to come. When your friendships change or even end – and they always will – remind yourself that new and better things are on the horizon (and they always are).