Do You Make Friends at Work?

Do You Make Friends at Work?

Loads of us make real-life friends at work, but should you? We know that there are benefits to having strong relationships in the workplace — it fosters a feeling of belonging, creates an atmosphere of collaboration, not to mention it’s great to have someone to vent to when things get tough — but we rarely discuss the possible negatives.

Research published in Frontiers in Psychology in 2020 identified a “dark side” of “relational” leadership, for instance: Workers may engage in unethical behaviour if they find it benefitting a supervisor they’re close to — or have “strong relational ties” with. The unethical behaviour can come from the top down, too, notes Marissa Morrison, vice president of people at ZipRecruiter. “You might show favoritism without realising it,” she says, which could compromise your decision-making. Especially strong friendships among only certain colleagues, “may also inadvertently create cliques or a sense of exclusivity, which could make it challenging for others to feel included or build connections within the team,” she adds.

HRUTech’s Tim Sackett, author of The Talent Fix: A Leader’s Guide to Recruiting Great Talent, acknowledges it’s “actually really hard” to overcome the urge to befriend someone at work who you find yourself drawn to, so if you want to establish firm boundaries, you have to decide beforehand whether you’re comfortable transitioning a relationship from “work friends” to real-life friendship. And if a real-life friendship does develop, he says, it’s a good idea to have “the talk” about how to handle work issues — like if one of you becomes the other’s boss — so you can maintain professionalism in the event of a major shakeup.

Morrison’s advice centres on mindfulness: Recognise the potential for conflicts to arise if you get too close to some colleagues and not others, but also be aware that some people don’t have a desire for personal connections in the workplace at all — and they shouldn’t be ostracised for it.

The pandemic changed a lot of things about how we work, as demonstrated through research and plenty of anecdotal evidence. One survey from last year found that after years of remote work, people don’t prioritise work friendships the way they once did. Only 11% of respondents ranked co-worker relationships as a top factor in their job satisfaction, making it least important among other factors like compensation, work-life balance, and job security. A Gallup poll found that only two out of 10 American workers strongly agree they have a best friend in the workplace at all.

So what about you? Are work friendships a good idea or a recipe for drama? How can you set clear boundaries with your coworkers/potential friends? Let us know in the comments.

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