Office friendships: What to consider when making a friend at work - Women's Agenda

Office friendships: What to consider when making a friend at work

It’s easy to form close bonds with the people we work with, given we face similar challenges and celebrate victories together. And nobody else appreciates just what our office environment is like as well as a colleague.

Plenty of us can see the benefit of such relationships: according to Randstad research, 67% of workers say friends made their job fun and 55% claim office pals increased their job satisfaction. A Gallup study of more than five million employees found workers with a best friend in the office were more engaged, productive and successful in their jobs (56% who had a friend compared to 8% who didn’t).

But before you go rushing off to the water cooler or the lunchroom to mingle with your co-workers, Stacey Ashley, Executive Coach and founder of Ashley Coaching & Consulting says you need to consider the following important point: what’s the benefit to each of you in this friendship? Nowhere is the ‘give and take’ principle of a successful friendship more significant than in the workplace. Question the motivations behind the friendship – is it based on a mutually supportive relationship or the fact you both enjoy adrenalin sports?

So what should you consider in an office friendship?

Confidentiality and competition

Is there trust and confidentiality in the friendship? Before you initiate a close office friendship, evaluate whether you can trust them before discussing confidential information. Since the workplace recognises and rewards individual effort more – Ashley recommends thinking about how the friendship will affect competing for resources, promotions and differing opinions in meetings.

Personal brand

Ashley believes a personal brand (an expectation of what a person represents) is one of the keys to building a successful career. With more emphasis placed on developing and sustaining a personal brand in the workplace, consider how aligned or supportive the friendship is towards your brand. Ashley explains if you’re not completely comfortable introducing your office friend to other colleagues, bosses and even your family – this can have a negative impact on your personal brand.

Friendships between managers and direct reports

What if your good ‘office friend’ is your direct manager? Is this friendship best avoided? Experts are divided on this with some promoting friendships between bosses and employees (it encourages employees to show long term commitment and work harder) and others warning to steer clear. Ashley admits this is a gray area – a lot of factors challenge this kind of friendship including bias from other team members, managing the team member’s performance and contributions to the team and, ensuring that any reward and progression is not viewed unfavourably because of the friendship.

If you are keen to have your manager as an office friend, boundaries need to be determined at the beginning of the friendship – as this can later affect feedback, job performance and co-workers’ perceptions.

Tips for a successful office friendship

  1. Set and follow boundaries for the friendship – talk about how things will be done and revisit the discussion in case of issues.
  2. Invest mutually in your career and friendship, not at the expense of one or the other. Agree on a sustainable way to manage both if they are equally important.
  3. Separate the ‘friend’ from the co-worker– remind yourself and each other of the benefits by drawing and keeping a line at work.
  4. Do not use the friendship to hide poor job performance, bad behaviour or as leverage to get things done in the office.
  5. Show independence, accountability and responsibility at all times – make sure your office friend does the same.
  6. Maintain confidentiality and trust in the friendship at all times – avoid the temptation to ‘pass on’ confidential information to others in the team.
  7. Don’t spend too much time together – time apart is great for any friendship.

Stay Smart! Get Savvy!

Get Women's Agenda in your inbox