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Having friends at work is hugely beneficial.

Psychologist and author Ron Friedman points out in his book “The Best Place To Work” that workplace friendships are one of the strongest predictors of productivity and success, according to research.

He previously told Business Insider that meaningful connections are vital to our psychological and physical well-being. “In fact, many scientists now believe it’s impossible to perform at our best unless we feel connected to others.”

Friedman explained that we’re fundamentally social creatures. When we feel isolated or excluded, that experience is painful and psychologically taxing, damaging our ability to focus.

“Studies show that prolonged loneliness can have a crippling effect, beyond regular work hours,” he said. “Lonely people have a harder time relaxing and falling asleep. Over time, extended bouts of loneliness can lead to memory and learning deficits.”

However, in 1985, about 50% of Americans said they had a close friend at work, but by 2004 only 30% agreed with this, according to The New York Times.

“Connecting and engaging with colleagues can make for a friendly, happy, and more productive work environment,” says Alyssa Gelbard, founder and president of Resume Strategists.

She says you don’t have to tell your coworkers your deepest secrets, but you do want to move past the usual “weather and work” elevator talk.

Here are Gelbard’s five suggestions on how to make friends at work:

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Find things you have in common with different coworkers, and casually bring those topics up in conversation.

If you’re a sports fan, talk about last night’s game with those who you know are interested.

Saying something like, “How ’bout them Broncos?” is a completely legitimate and easy way to strike up a conversation.

“If you have a common passion – in this example, a sports team — discussing a recent game, the players, and rivals can establish an instant rapport,” Gelbard says.

Plus, if you are knowledgeable about a certain sport, then you can become known as the token sports expert in the office and people will begin to seek you out after a big game, she explains. After a few weeks you can take that one step further and ask if someone wants to “catch a game” with you.

Of course, this strategy isn’t limited to sports — it can be any common passion. Find out what your coworkers are interested in by being observant (not stalker-ish) and then bring up those interests in casual conversation.

For instance, if you’ve seen Jane knitting in the break room, stop and ask her how or when she learned the craft. If you notice John is always reading poetry during lunch, suggest a few great books.

Join a club or team.

Many companies today have organized clubs or recreational sports teams — like book club or softball.

Join the ones you’re most interested in. It’s one of the easiest ways to make friends— especially if you’re shy — because these clubs or teams are usually smaller groups, making it less scary to speak up.

Plus, they’re fun. So it’s a win-win.

Volunteer with your colleagues.

Many companies encourage employees to volunteer together. Do it. Not only will you be doing a good thing by giving back to the community, but it’s a great way to meet and bond with coworkers.

Gelbard says people usually commit to volunteering for a half or full day on a weekend — so you’ll be spending more quality time with your coworkers than you would during, say, an after-work happy hour.

She says when you can use the time to talk about why you’re at the event, why the cause is important to you, and what you’d like to do in the future for the cause. Then at work on Monday, you can discuss your thoughts and takeaways from the day of volunteering.

See the rest of the story at Business Insider