Today we’re talking about the importance of workplace colleagues. This topic is a natural because Bridge Street’s co-hosts, Chris and Kaylea, are such wonderful role models for what special colleagues can be. They tease, have fun but even when they bicker, it is always done with love, caring and respect. They are great.

Hopefully our discussion can clear up some of the confusion, allay some worries and raise appreciation for one’s colleagues. Indeed, it is important for folks to value, take pride in and nurture their collegial relationships. I have some tips to help you out.

American Cultural Shifts: Away from Community, Toward Individualism

I think the topic is important because sociologists tell us that, over the past fifty years, there has been cultural shift of emphasis which has taken us away from communally based activities and toward more individual ones. As a result, as individuals we have become more isolated from one another.

For example, regular contact with our extended family has decreased and for many has pretty much disappeared. Also people do not actively belong to churches or groups and organizations the way they used to. Even our neighborhoods, with the growth of the sidewalk-less tract housing, don’t provide opportunities for social interaction the way they once did. Sometimes we don’t even know our neighbors’ names.

The Emotional Support Deficit

As a result of the cultural changes, there are fewer and fewer opportunities for friendships and social support. This has resulted in what some call an emotional support deficit. Some even believe that more folks have turned to extra-marital affairs to fill this void. Likewise, many spouses feel extra pressure to be everything for their mates.

Spousal Overload: Partners Can’t do It All

We’ve talked before about some of the common marital myths. Here is another one: the need for friends stops with marriage, i.e. that the marital relationship can provide for all of the emotional needs of the partners. In earlier times, the need for varied social interaction was rarely an issue. Families, churches and organizations filled our lives with many opportunities. However, rapid rate of social change over the past 60 years has eclipsed older paradigms without providing new ones.

While marriage still takes care of romantic desires, there are other kinds of psychological support which colleagues can provide. For example, a person’s work is a major part of his or her weekly time commitment. While a spouse may be supportive, a work mate will know more about the details of the actual situation. A colleague is around to provide praise or appreciation for jobs well done and empathy for difficult times in a way that one’s mate simply can’t. Further, it is unfair to expect that s/he can do so.

Needless Worry Regarding Workplace Colleagues

Despite these cultural changes, all is not lost. Workplace colleagues can be a prime resource for supportive relationships. Unfortunately, the notion of colleague is an under-appreciated asset which needs to be encouraged and developed. Even though studies show that individuals who have good collegial relations at work are happier and perform better, than folks who don’t, there is still confusion and even some anxiety about the limits and place of colleagues.

Indeed, studies have shown that having office friends is not only a good way to reduce work related stress but is also a good way to protect one’s spouse from becoming emotionally overloaded. While some might worry that opposite sex office relationships can lead to trouble, as long as reasonable boundaries are respected, there is nothing to fear. In fact, since folks who have solid collegial relationships have more adequate emotional support, they are actually less likely to become involved in extra-marital situations.

Tips for Nurturing your Collegial Relationships

1. Appreciate your collegial relationships. Stop thinking you don’t need them. Wake up and acknowledge that your colleagues are an important part of your life .

2. Make the effort and be considerate. Don’t be lazy or take them for granted. Treat your colleagues with respect and kindness. Just like any successful relationship, having good colleagues requires work. They just don’t happen naturally. Don’t ignore or avoid problems. Of course petty jealousies, rivalries and irritations are normal between friends but don’t let them mess up your relationship.

3. Show How You Feel. Communicate your appreciation. Don’t be afraid and don’t keep it a secret. You aren’t asking someone to “go steady”. Do the little things that show you value them. Give little gifts, take them to lunch from time and remember their birthdays.

4. Be Clear, Define the Boundaries. The relationship is not about romance or deep intimacies it is about work related mutual support.

5. Share your colleagues with your family and friends. Don’t hide your colleagues or shut them out from your family. Collegial relationships are not secrets or private affairs. In a real sense, your special workplace colleagues are a part of the modern extended family.