Is friendship appropriate in the workplace?

How close are you and your colleagues? Do you hang out after work or are you glad to see the back of them come Friday evening? Studies show having good relationships with your co-workers is good for you; not only does it make you more productive in your role, it’s also good for your mental wellbeing. However, blurring the line between friendship and professionalism can be risky. Some lines just shouldn’t be crossed.

Let’s start with the positives. No matter who you are; no matter what your personality type; we all have an inherent human need to belong. We’re a social species and even though we might enjoy alone time; we all rely on human interaction in some capacity. Considering we spend an average of 40 hours per week with our colleagues, the workplace seems like a good place to satisfy that need. Besides, by the time you travel home; prepare food, and catch up on sleep; you’re left with limited hours to socialize. Enter work friendships.

Related: Your office space might be making you less productive

True bonds between co-workers are based on genuine interest in one another; the sharing of stories; an atmosphere of openness and kindness, and a sincere want to get to know each other better. If your staff room conversations sound something like,

“Hey, how are you?”
“Good, thanks! You?”
“Yeah, good.”
“Okay, cool, see you later.”

… Then a work friendship you do not have. The more connected we are to the people in our lives; the happier we are. A recent study by LinkedIn found 46% of professionals think work friends are important to their overall happiness. What's more, with happiness comes greater motivation and productivity. Research carried out by CAGE found happy employees are up to 20% more productive than unhappy employees. When it comes to salespeople, happiness can boost sales figures by 37%. And let's not forget, having someone to chat to during the day (or even just to grab a coffee with at lunch) makes the day go by so much faster. Time does fly when you're having fun.

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However, it’s important to tread carefully. Conflict can arise when the line between work and friendship gets blurred, particularly during high season and busy spells. Your so-called 'work-wife' or 'work-husband' mustn't get in the way of you doing your job correctly. If you find you're being distracted from the project at hand; something has got to change.

Moreover, your friendship with a co-worker could be negatively impacting the rest of your team. According to research by Randstad, 44% of employees feel workplace friendships feed gossip; 37% believe it leads to favouritism, and 26% say friendships can make other co-workers feel uncomfortable or left out. With this in mind, it's worth being wary of office cliques.

Work-related competition is something to look out for too. What happens if a senior position becomes available and you both want to apply for it? Will your friendship last after you become their manager? Eileen Habelow, senior vice-president of Randstad says, “Employees should weigh all of the pros and cons carefully and find a comfort level that is right for them. It could be the difference in career success or career suicide.”

Lastly, when it comes to befriending your boss; always air on the side of caution. Managers and supervisors need to carry out performance evaluations honestly and professionally (without being swayed by personal attachment). Just because the boss is your friend doesn't mean you deserve a raving review. Workplace hierarchy needs to be respected, and FYI, it's best to steer clear of drunken texts and Facebook requests.

Photo: Brooke Cagle, Unsplash

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