Friend or foe?
We spend nearly 25 percent of our time in one week at work—so naturally we gravitate toward developing friendships in the workplace. It makes the day go quicker if you get along with the people around you. But crossing over into friendship outside of work can be risky.
If you're going to pursue a friendship outside of work, make sure you've worked together for quite some time (think at least a year or even two) and you know each other well. And know the potential risks of crossing the threshold into friendship. Here are the most common risky types of friends.
It seemed harmless enough to go out for lunch together on a weekend. But this quickly turned into multiple weekends—and even multiple events within one weekend. Then, anytime you mention plans outside of work, she invites herself. Even if she doesn’t join you, she’s asking for all of the details without giving you a moment to breathe on your own. The texts and phone calls, even when unanswered, seem never-ending. And now you face the challenge of separating yourself in a gentle enough way so you don’t harm your work relationship. Typically, the best way to ease out of this situation is to slowly decline events here and there until she stops asking (or inviting herself).
Some work friends are able to keep work and friendship completely separate and are able to have frank, open discussions about work needs without hurting each other’s feelings. This is impressive, and doesn’t come easy. Consider this scenario: Lisa's work performance is suffering, but her friend Patty doesn't feel comfortable saying anything to Lisa or to management because they're friends. Patty's afraid Lisa would take any comments personally or feel betrayed if Patty expressed concerns to management.
Another challenge: the chummier you get with your coworkers, the harder it becomes to focus on getting the job done, which hurts productivity. When this occurs it affects how you're viewed by your supervisor and may be reflected in your reviews and opportunities for promotions and raises.
The supercilious supervisor
We would like to think that supervisors wouldn't use their power as leverage tool in a friendship, but it happens. Scuffles naturally can occur in friendships, especially if you become fast friends quickly. The unfortunate risk of disagreements with a friend who's a supervisor—you can't guarantee your job will remain secure, or at least the same. Thankfully, most managers are mature enough to keep the two separate, but remains a risk when crossing into friendship territory with a supervisor.
Dr. Jekyl and Ms. Hyde
A coworker can seem entertaining and jovial enough at work, but sometimes outside of the work environment it's different story. You may find every time you go out, she tries to control every aspect of what you do together, from the restaurant to the movie you choose. She can also live a “party animal” lifestyle that leaves you feeling uncomfortable. And now you have entered the awkward territory of having to edge your way out of social situations with this coworker without offending her.
The work whiner
As you start off a friendship with a coworker you are naturally likely to bond over and discuss work, which is fine in the beginning … until you realize that there’s not much commonality between you and your coworker aside from your work, and it becomes all you can talk about. You already have to live and breathe work 40 hours a week, so you should try to avoid surrounding yourself in work-related conversations during off-hours.
When friendships develop between two compatible people, there's a risk of one of the coworkers pushing past appropriate boundaries. Even if you're married, you can't guarantee your coworker will respect and understand the boundaries of your marriage. This isn’t sexual harassment—rather, the subtler behaviors.
For example, intentions aside, excessive contact outside of work hours from the socially inept coworker can cause you to feel uncomfortable as a married person. On the flip side, when two single individuals become friends outside of work and the boundaries are blurred, this can end up as a successful relationship … or a messy breakup with work being caught in the crossfire. Proceed with caution.
When a friend becomes the manager
It's arguably much less complicated to be friends with someone who's on the same level on the totem pole at work. But sometimes one employee gets promoted after you've become friends. It's challenging to maintain respect in the new role and avoid creating hard feelings.
Friendships are a vital part of our existence. They help us feel connected to the world and the people around us. There's a definite need for friends in our lives, but we should be wary when, where and how we build our relationships. If you're considering a friendship with a coworker, make sure you know the person well and move slowly to avoid stirring up drama in your personal and professional life.