Whatever your industry, whatever your career goals and whatever your working style, it’s hard to overestimate the importance of your colleagues. Tot up your office hours each week, after all, and you’ll probably find that time spent with your workmates outweighs the time you’ve spent with friends and family, a fact that needn’t be disheartening if we’re surrounding ourselves with the right people. But who are these ‘right’ people?
The chances are, you already know a few of them, as new research from LinkedIn reveals that there are four different types of colleague who will have a positive impact on your career: the cheerleader, the best friend, the work husband or wife and, perhaps most surprisingly, the rival.
Despite some (very) slow progress on tackling the gender pay gap, as women we are often left to navigate work environments that weren’t built for us. It’s against this backdrop that a female support network become so significant. Of the 2000 participants in LinkedIn’s survey, 35 percent identified the ‘cheerleader’ as the most important figure in their career development.
For Daniela, a 36-year-old communications professional who works as a PR & Campaigns director, the value of workplace mentors (note the plural) who provide support and advice can’t be overstated.
“Mentors – in all shapes and sizes – really are the secret ingredient to building and shaping your career,” she tells Grazia.
“Having now worked in the industry for over 11 years, I’ve been fortunate to have (and continue to have) great mentors who provide me with counsel and guidance: I have a few, depending on what it is that I want to talk through. I have worked with and for my current boss, Karen, for the last three and a half years, and she has provided me with endless opportunities for growth. She has instilled in me the power of believing in possibility, and the importance of being good at more than one thing.”
Daniela’s experiences of the value of a career cheerleader have proved so beneficial, they’ve inspired her to become a mentor in both a formal and informal capacity.
“I know too well that, no matter how insignificant you think it may be, some well-timed advice, encouragement or simply sharing examples of experiences, can really go a long way,” she says. “I’m also going through the process of becoming a mentor for a graduate.”
It’s clear that a few, well-chosen career mentors, be they current bosses, former colleagues or just peers whose work you really respect, can provide invaluable advice and perspective – but what about the deskmate who acts as your day-to-day sounding board and can always be relied on for after-work drinks?
LinkedIn’s study reveals that 28 per cent credit their ‘best friend’ with helping them reach their career goals, while 13 per cent identify a work ‘husband or wife’ as playing a key role.
It’s millennials who are the biggest advocates for workplace friendships. One third, or 33 per cent, have a ‘work bestie’ with whom they regularly socialise outside of their 9 to 5 (a stat that’s higher than the 28 per cent average).
“My first workplace ended up being so much more than a job – it became the place that introduced me to some of the most important and formative friendships of my twenties,” says Amy, 26. “The women I met at that job – and the jobs that followed – are the women I turn to whenever I have a professional dilemma but also the ones I holiday with, the ones I message when something goes wrong in my personal life, the ones I know have my back.”
Think of it as shine theory in action.
Forming friendships with your colleagues doesn’t mean letting your career goals take a backseat. Instead, these positive relationships can help you push yourself further: 78 per cent of millennials reported that their colleague-friends made them feel more confident at work.
Indeed, our peers are often best-placed to give us some perspective on our own achievements, pushing us forward to take on projects that are new, exciting and even a little bit scary.
For Carolyn, 35, it was the support of her workmates that inspired her to take a major new step in her career.
“At my last job, I really clicked with three women in my team and we soon crossed over from being colleagues to friends – after an awkward phase of wondering whether to ‘ask them out’ and see if they wanted to spend time outside of work,” she explains. “I recently decided to go freelance and I genuinely don’t think I’d have done so if I hadn’t met these women.”
Once she’d started up, each of her friends was able to offer their own expertise.
“One is great at networking and public speaking, so she’s introduced me to people and groups that can help me, one inspired me to pursue a creative project I’d been putting off (she’s an artist and has a side hustle selling her work) and they’ve encouraged me to believe in myself more: one of my friends was so confident in my abilities that she put me forward for a contract with her agency, which became my first client.”
More unexpectedly, LinkedIn’s research also pinpoints the rival as a key figure in career development – 37 per cent of those surveyed said their rival, identified as a co-worker who you might regularly come up against for a promotion, has had a positive impact on their career. Another 14 percent claimed they’d rather have a rival than a cheerleader. It seems that an element of competition needn’t lead to a toxic working environment.
“When I was a trainee, we knew that we’d eventually be competing for the same jobs at the end of the contract. Though we were all friends, it did make you work harder to stand out,” says Helen, a 27-year-old lawyer.
Once she and her peers were qualified, this dynamic switched down a gear but remained just as productive.
“One of these friends ended up working in another department; we were both really competitive but used that to work together: we were both honest with each other about our pay and used that to leverage a rise.”
Perhaps it’s time to reframe the work rivalry in a more positive light, and recognise the fact that competition needn’t preclude friendship.
“Making friends with your colleagues doesn’t mean setting your ambition aside,” says Amy. “We were all very determined to succeed – we just never saw one person’s win as the other’s loss. We knew that there was room for us at the table.”