Loneliness does a number on our health and has the same effect as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being a lifelong alcoholic. It can even be twice as harmful as obesity.

And it goes beyond our own health to affect the health of our workplace. Studies have shown that friendships at work boost employee engagement, retention and even innovation. 

Can we have good or even great relationships at work? The answer is a resounding yes according to Shasta Nelson, author of The Business of Friendship: Making the Most of Our Relationships Where We Spend Most of Our Time.

 The first step for building happy and healthy friendships is acknowledging the need and hunger. Too many of us deny it or try to pretend it doesn’t matter. We do this perhaps because we’re afraid of the stigma of loneliness or because we’re scared we can’t do anything to change it, but by ignoring the hunger, we aren’t activating ourselves to bring about change. The truth is that we live in a world that is ever more connected but we’re feeling a greater sense of disconnection. To admit that and be willing to learn and practice the actions of friendship can not only save our lives, but make us happier in the meantime.

The three requirements for healthy friends are positivity, consistency, and vulnerability. Without one of those, it isn’t a healthy friendship. Those three practices will help us start, develop, enhance, and fix any relationship in our lives as we learn what actions foster trust, safety, and support.

The point is we don’t have to be friends with everyone at work and we’re not likely to be BFFs with that person either. To have healthy friendships at work is also about having healthy expectations and boundaries.

But what about toxic coworkers? A person isn’t toxic per se according to Nelson. We need to separate the person from the toxic behavior and/or pattern happening in the workplace like belittling, gossiping, bullying, ostracizing etc. And then take either of two corrective courses of action – increase positive feelings or find a way to decrease the negative ones.

The bottom line—good friendships at work benefit us and our company in more ways than one. Make it a priority to cultivate more meaningful friendships at work and read the book.