Should Your Colleagues Be Your Friends?

Date

Summer 2024

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It’s not uncommon for people to say that you shouldn’t be friends with your co-workers. Perhaps they, from personal experience, have had negative outcomes with a co-worker who they assumed was their friend. Maybe they are a strong believer that in order for colleagues to remain professional, it is impossible for them to also be friends. Either way, is there any real truth behind this statement?

A Look at the Broader Picture

For most people, work is where you spend the majority of your time. It’s the building you occupy more than your own house, and you probably see your colleagues more often than you see many of your family members. Humans are also social creatures, and abstaining from socializing entirely is not only very difficult when you’re in close proximity with others for such a long period of time, but it’s also bad for your health, as feelings of isolation can lead to depression. 

The Positives of Workplace Friendships

For most working people, one of the major draws of work is the connections that one can make with their colleagues. Research has found that employees are more engaged when they have social connections with their colleagues. Employees will also be more productive, more likely to stick around with a particular organization, and the sense of belonging that socialization creates means that employees are more present while completing their work. 

Regarding the effect on teams as a whole, when co-workers have positive relationships with each other, their productivity levels are higher, team-building is easier and smoother, the collaboration and communication between colleagues is stronger, and when teams are supporting each other, they are better able to manage and respond to workplace stress.

The Negatives of Workplace Friendships

On the flip side though, making friends with our colleagues also comes with its fair share of negatives. There are plenty of work environments that are highly competitive, and being friends with someone you are in direct competition with will only end in hurt feelings, when one person inevitably gets ahead and the other does not. This can also create a heightened sense of anxiety, as it can increase the amount of pressure you feel when you are competing against someone you have a personal connection with.

Additionally, while communication is a good thing among colleagues, being too friendly can also serve as a distraction, causing you to be too busy socializing rather than getting work done. Your colleagues may also struggle to give you good constructive feedback if they feel that your friendship may be in jeopardy, if they comment on an area where you may need to improve. 

You may also find it difficult to maintain work-life balance if the lines are constantly being blurred. It can also be hard to maintain one’s personal privacy, especially if you work with someone who likes to overshare and tries to press you to do the same.

Creating Balance Between Professionalism and Overstepping

Like many things in life however, the real answer to this question is far more nuanced than many people may believe. It is possible to have connections with your colleagues and build strong work relationships without getting yourself hurt in the process. Of course, while every friendship is different, it’s important to set boundaries early on, and then stick to them. 

For instance, if a certain topic of conversation about your personal life makes you uncomfortable, make it clear that you’re not willing to talk about it. The point of workplace friendships is to build trust with your colleagues. You feel like your opinion can be voiced, you are safe to express your identity, and you are comfortable spending eight hours a day with these people. 

Some friendships can absolutely turn into lifelong friendships long after you leave an organization, which means that there may be a blurring of personal and professional while at work. But you still need to be able to make it clear that how you act around each other at work, will be different from how you act outside of work. The point here is to find the right balance, so you can socialize professionally.

Lauren Schwartz | Staff Writer

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