How to cope when your work friend leaves

If you’ve worked somewhere for a while, then chances are there is one person you’ve grown close to. From sharing the coffee run to a chat over lunch, many of us have a colleague who has become more of a friend than just a coworker.
And the friendship may go further than sharing a bottle of wine after work, too. Having someone to confide in who can provide advice and support is important and can make the daily grind so much easier.
It’s rare for people to stay at one company for the duration of their working lives, however. So what do you do if your work friend tells you they are handing in their resignation?
“We all have them and we all feel better for them, yet workplace friendships are often not taken particularly seriously. Frequently kept under the radar or seen as just a nice thing to have, very few people talk about the importance of these relationships,” says psychologist Stuart Duff, head of development at business psychologists Pearn Kandola.
“But research into topics such as engagement, wellbeing, and productivity in the workplace has often found that success in these areas is connected to having a workplace friend.”
Research has shown that 30% of employees have a best friend at work, and those who do are seven times more likely to engage with their workplace. Having a workplace friend also gives employees a feeling of stability. A study by Gallup found women who strongly agree they have a best friend at work are more than twice as likely to be engaged (63%) and productive at work, compared with the women who say otherwise (29%).
“A workplace friendship allows the creation of a safe place and gives employees the chance to take off their mask of professionality,” Duff adds. “An outlet for these emotions is vital, as it stops resentment and frustration bubbling up to the surface.”
UK employees spend an average of around four years in one job, which means we’re likely to see work friends come and go. And even though you can remain friends and still meet up after work, it can be hard to see someone you’re close to leaving.
“The departure of a colleague with whom you are particularly close though can be a difficult time,” Duff says. “With the absence of the ‘safety net,’ there is often a newfound sense of isolation, which leads to feelings of exposure. The sounding board that would have previously been relied upon has suddenly been removed, leaving a newfound lack of perspective.
“On a day to day level, humor, support, and understanding have also disappeared. It’s normal to feel less engaged or as though your wellbeing has been impacted by the departure of a friend. Another important consideration is that, in the current climate, the unprecedented uncertainty and additional pressure of COVID-19 is likely to only exacerbate these feelings further.”
Losing a workplace best friend can be a big change to adapt to, particularly when things are so chaotic. So how can you make it a little easier?
“Feeling down or even depressed by the news that your friend is moving on and the impending change that it represents is perfectly normal,” Duff says. “Recognising the cause of your mood is a step towards recovering and getting back to a more positive state of being.”
When a friend is leaving, the only way out of the resulting negative mindset is to try new ways of being, he adds. “Build new work relationships to fill the void left behind and focus your mind on seeing yourself in a better place in the next few months,” he says.
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And remember, change can be a good thing. Your friend may no longer be in the office, but you may enjoy spending time with other colleagues or meeting new people. Seeing your friend outside of the work environment may also be beneficial to your friends too.
“Try to reach out and engage with people you may not necessarily have spoken to before. It’s unlikely that you’ll be the only person experiencing these feelings and sharing this could be a strong foundation for a new workplace friendship,” Duff says. “Don’t forget either that we’re living through a pandemic. Our emotions are going to be up and down, but the stability of a strong friendship could be a vital way of keeping us grounded.”
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