Best friends make work fun

By Alan Perrott

Nick Harrison (left) and Matthew Crawley, managers of Golden Dawn, Richmond Rd.
Nick Harrison (left) and Matthew Crawley, managers of Golden Dawn, Richmond Rd.

Do you have a work bestie? A pretty straightforward (if paraphrased) question you'd think, but it still made me sit back and think. Mostly about whether or not I had somehow time-travelled back to school.

Not even, this was a serious inquiry from my employer. "Oh whatever," I thought, and without committing myself either way, I shrugged it off and moved to the next question. Maybe they want to know if I've ever had a pash? Or my favourite member of One Direction?

But another thought struck me. Would the seemingly trivial issue of whether or not I had proper mates at work somehow reflect my place within the company? I must admit this added unexpected heft to my answer, so it seemed prudent to give the whole thing extra thought, with a little less cynicism. What would it mean if I said no? Nothing good I guessed -- no-one wants to be Nigel No-Mates, that's when you start getting pointed questions about your gun collection.

Also, thinking back, I must admit I've had jobs that didn't involve a best mate and sure, we all got along, but I was never going to invite anyone to my birthday party or anything.

And now that I was thinking about it, those are my least favourite working memories too. Not this time though, loads of mates in every direction, so I put a big joyful tick in the yes box (while refraining from wondering what exactly constitutes a best mate), and moved on.

Which brings us to why this is now a thing -- because it really does seem that bosses have become keen on their wage slaves finding a best friend they only see at work. Surprise, surprise their motives aren't entirely altruistic and even if having a good mate possibly does signal a person has engaged with their working environment, there's more going on here.

First off, close friends bond us to places and groups. Think about school and you'll most likely picture your BFF before remembering what the hall or main gate looked like, and that person's image will likely have you feeling good about that place regardless of the detentions, exams and Chinese burns.

It's science says the Harvard Business Review and quite different science to the Stockholm Syndrome variant where people feel weirdly sentimental attachments to overbearing bosses (think the old movie trope of screaming newspaper editors). It's also very different science to the hook-ups that happen at the Christmas party. That's chemistry.

Anyway, regardless of why, we all know that mates pull together for the team, for the brand, and, even in indirectly, for the boss... are you with me? Ah-ha! But research is now suggesting we're becoming less likely to make real workmates.

Why? Well, the notion of a job for life is dead: some businesses may as well install revolving doors at reception. But more than that, people no longer spend work breaks around the water cooler (if they ever did) discussing the events of the day. Instead, we're all on social media catching up with our wider network, making it not at all uncommon for new colleagues to come and go without you ever knowing their name.

The question of what is at risk here is easier to answer by looking at how a powerful friendship can drive a workplace, and it'd be hard to find a better example than the pride of Ponsonby, Golden Dawn. As near as dammit to 24/7, over nigh on five years, Matthew Crawley and Nick Harrison have been leaning on each other to keep this idiosyncratic bar open and vital.

They only knew each other as faces across various bars before being thrown together, and Nick admits to being unsure of what he was in for. "My first sight of Matthew was when he rode in on a fixed-speed bike wearing shorts,T-shirt and tails. All I could think was 'who is this and what am I in for?'" So no, they aren't copies of each other, but, as with all good partnerships, that's part of why they work and why they sometimes don't. "Yeah," says Harrison, "we can get pissed off with each other sometimes, it happens with every relationship, but we kind of make fun of it."

"Even then," adds Crawley, "we've said that we don't know if we'd want to keep doing this if the other wasn't doing it too. Somehow it just wouldn't make sense."

As a result this is by far the longest either has spent in any job: "And that freaks me out," Crawley says, "it really has become an exercise in commitment."

Which became clear a few years back when a job opportunity arose. If anything, the possibility of Crawley leaving pulled the staff together even more tightly, especially when they understood the effort required to keep a venue feeling alive, financially sustainable and out of the clutches of noise control. In fact you might say their business model is now more of a family model -- hospitality work is notorious for it's indulgences, but they'd far rather people enjoy those they're working alongside than the nefarious trappings of bar life.

"I think that's the thing about our dynamic," says Harrison, "even when things get quite extreme, we look to make fun of it together."

"It's the equivalent of shoot first and sort things out later," adds Crawley, "We decided very early on to keep people surprised, but that's as much about us as anything. We have to keep things fresh because that keeps us fresh and I think you have to have trust in people to allow yourself to do that."

There's a lesson here. Having a really good workmate means even when Golden Dawn was at its greatest peril -- and it was extremely perilous -- their relationship was such that they could take a break from the browbeating, step outside, watch the brand new Star Wars trailer, then go back in and charm the hell out of everyone.

- NZ Herald

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