The Ground Rules Of Workplace Friendships

Robin Schwartz

The Ground Rules Of Workplace Friendships

Friendships in the workplace can take on different meanings for different people. To some, it’s just having a co-worker whose company they enjoy enough to lunch regularly with. To others, it’s having someone you hang out with inside and outside of the office and share all aspects of your life with.

No matter your definition of workplace friendships, be sure to follow these rules. This will help keep your personal relationship professional.

Acknowledge Your Role

If you’re the team leader or department manager, maintaining workplace friendships might be a little trickier for you. Those in positions of leadership need to maintain a level of professionalism. This might stop them from developing strong workplace friendships. A workplace friendship between another manager might be more acceptable. If you are in a leadership position, a workplace friendship between another manager might be more acceptable than one with an entry level employee.

Occasionally, some non-management positions might also make navigating workplace friendships difficult.

For example, if you’re the HR representative for your organization, you need to develop and maintain a level of neutrality with co-workers. You should not form strong bonds with some co-workers over others. Those in positions which demand equal treatment may want to consider how appropriate it is for them to have workplace friendships.

Don’t Gossip

Whether you have a friend in the workplace or not, participating in workplace gossip is a quick way to lose the respect of those around you. If you’re regularly seen as someone who sits and gossips with friends, it will impact your credibility. Co-workers will question your value at work.

Gossip doesn’t have any place in a professional environment. If you’ve developed a close personal relationship with someone at work, all conversations during work hours should remain professional and (mostly) work related. Leave all non-work related conversations for after hours or outside of the office building.

You also need to ensure that you respect the privacy of other employee’s. If a co-worker has provided you with personal information because you’re on a friendly basis, that’s not yours to share. If you’re in a management position, providing personal details about employees to other employees could land you in hot water.

Don’t Show Favoritism

If you have a team of 5 people reporting to you, odds are that you’ll connect with 1 or 2 people more than others. It may be tempting to spend more time talking with those employees you feel better connected to. It’s important to consider the visual impact to others on your team.

Employees are more likely to suffer from a decrease in morale if they think some team members are shown favoritism over them. This is enough to create major issues within a team and work environment. It can lead to law suits and accusations of discrimination. If you decide to maintain workplace friendships while in a position of authority, make sure you give all employees equal attention and equal opportunities.

Be sure to listen to all co-workers and employees when they come to you with information or ideas. By making sure all employees feel heard and valued, the risk of appearing to favor others will decrease.

Create Boundaries

Make sure you are not making yourself available all day for non-work related conversations. Your social relationships at work shouldn’t prove to be such a distraction that they prevent you from doing your jobs.

Be aware of the time you have available each day to devote to your friendships. Consider setting aside time during a break or over your lunch hour to connect with your work friends. Taking short 5-10 minutes breaks to chat with co-workers might actually help increase productivity. This may actually help you achieve the social interaction you need while staying on schedule with your work.

Boundaries may go beyond your work schedule and could include what’s appropriate conduct in the friendship. Workplace friendships are often not as open as those we develop in our personal lives. Decide for yourself early on what topics are and are not open for discussion (i.e. politics, family, personal beliefs, etc.). When you find conversations starting to enter territory you’re not comfortable with, steer them back to a neutral place.

Don’t Let Friendships Get In The Way of The Job

There may come a time where you need to have a difficult conversation with someone you have become friends with. When you’re in a position of leadership, it’s important that you hold employees accountable. Developing a workplace relationship with those in your direct line of supervision may make that more difficult.

Make sure you’re always in a place to be able to separate the personal relationships you’ve decided to develop with your job.

It’s important that employees are provided accurate and unbiased feedback about their work product.

If you’re no longer able to have a challenging conversation with an employee about their work performance or their future with the company, then you’re doing both them and you a disservice.

About The Author

Robin Schwartz

Robin Schwartz has nearly a decade of experience providing HR expertise to employees and management in higher education. Her broad experience includes benefits, compensation, performance management, employee relations, payroll, talent acquisition and management. She received her masters degree from American Military University and maintains a PHR certification.

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