Written by Kristin Harrington

I’m a sucker for funny social media memes. I love the range of topics covered – from parenting to social life to work humor. One particular style of work meme keeps popping up on my social feed. It’s a shout-out to “work besties” who provide “gossip and trauma bonding.” Given the sheer number of versions, I suspect it’s getting a lot of viewer traction.

I’ve had my fair share of work besties. There’s the mentor bestie who sherpas you through the industry’s newness. There’s the “work-husband or wife” who takes the place of your significant other at the office and becomes a solid person to lean on. There are the besties you grab happy hour drinks with and would consider friends outside of work. The list goes on… Having one or more colleagues to lean on at work is an important part of workplace satisfaction. We need people, and work is no exception.

Unfortunately, too often, the “work bestie” can devolve into an outlet for gossip and toxicity. In my career, I’ve gotten caught in endless cycles of negativity and complaining with close colleagues. There’s no doubt we were trauma-bonding, commenting on what we perceived as the craziness happening around us. At the time, I didn’t fully appreciate how much I was negatively contributing to the organization’s culture. The very thing I was complaining about was the thing I was helping to make that way.

Given the popularity of these memes, I doubt this will be a popular statement – work relationships primarily based on a shared dislike for the company or leadership of the organization are not genuine relationships. And, even more, they’re hurting your ability to lead. Here’s what I’ve learned from my journey:

It’s a counterfeit connection. Author Brené Brown refers to these work besties as “common enemy intimacy,” noting this type of friendship is a counterfeit connection and the opposite of true belonging. If a bond is based on hating the same people, it can feel intimate, gratifying, and an easy way to make us feel better in the moment. It’s not, however, what’s going to fuel real connection. It leaves us feeling worse off, and it destroys the culture around us.

Authentic connections foster a positive workplace culture. Genuine relationships built on shared interests, collaboration, and mutual respect contribute positively to the workplace environment. Cultivating authentic connections promotes a culture of support, creativity, and growth within the organization. If you want to inspire others and influence outcomes, dedicate time to fostering authentic connections anywhere and everywhere.

Focus on constructive conversations and solutions. Rather than dwelling on complaints or negativity, redirect conversations towards constructive dialogue and problem-solving. Encourage discussions that seek solutions and improvements, uplifting the work atmosphere and enhancing productivity. As a leader, it’s your job to identify problems, take ownership, and move to a solution as quickly as possible. Passing the blame to everyone else isn’t leading.

So, here’s to forging bonds that uplift, inspire, and propel us forward—a workplace where genuine connections fuel growth and our actions foster a culture we’re proud to be a part of.

Founded in 2004, Lead Star is the company behind New York Times best-sellers SPARKLeading from the Front, and Bet on You. Lead Star supports professionals to reach new levels of success through its innovative coaching programs.