Why You Need Friends at Work

Raising the bar on your relationships with colleagues can enrich your job—if you approach it right

At this point it's nearly gospel: A healthy work-life separation is important. Sometimes, though, a well-chosen colleague might make your personal life better—as a friend or even a romantic partner. Friendly coworkers can make your work life better, too, as sounding boards, confidants and supporters. Neely Steinberg, a self-described "entrepreneur of dating and love lives," helps mid-career employees use their professional networks to find these relationships. Here's what she tells them.

Socialize in public spaces. You're not going to meet anyone eating salad at your desk. Take a half-hour to dine in the company cafeteria, if your building has one, so you can encounter people outside your orbit. Many businesses share their building space with other companies, so take advantage of shared areas like gyms or green space whenever possible. "Leave the earbuds back at your desk," she urges.

Start a company-wide initiative. This could be anything from a sustainable activity (like a recycling drive) to an intramural team (recruiting people to do various runs for charity or starting a company-wide running group) to organizing a volunteer group. Send an e-mail to your company asking for people to join you or ask for planning volunteers. This has dual benefits: You're setting the stage for new people to approach you, and you're establishing yourself as a go-getter.

Befriend people in other departments. "It's easy to get siloed in your company's department (marketing, sales, finance, et cetera), especially if you work at a medium to large-sized company," she says. But if you're looking for friendship or romance, it's best to go outside your immediate department for a variety of interpersonal and human resources reasons. Create long-term, steady opportunities to mingle elsewhere, whether it's by joining a companywide kickball team or simply taking a different route to your desk every morning.

Seek out professional development opportunities. Many companies offer employees professional development and continuing education opportunities. They can do wonders for your personal life, too. Take advantage as much as you can, because it's a great way to meet people in your field with whom you'll have built-in things in common. Some companies put the burden on employees to seek these out, so do your research and find out about trainings, conferences, or local professional education groups, like Toastmasters. Bonus: Work might even fund it.