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Making Friends at Work: An Ongoing Debate

Making Friends at Work: An Ongoing Debate

By Jeanette Coleman, SPHR & SHRM-SCP on Nov 10, 2021
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The question of whether or not employees should make friends at work is one that can sometimes be trickier to navigate. Many experts suggest that people “do not make friends at work”; but is this always the best advice? As an employer, you likely want your staff members to be collegial; collegiality can breed enhanced team spirit and that is certainly a good thing for a workplace environment. But what happens when collegiality leads to workplace friendships?

It is important to remember that people spend more than half of their day usually at work. It is therefore natural for colleagues to gravitate toward one another and in doing so, form friendships. Of course, there is always the chance that a friendship can sour. What impact then will this have on the overall office dynamic? So yes, the subject of making friends in business seems to be one that could be construed as part of an ongoing debate. The question thus becomes, as the boss, which side should you fall on?

Fostering a Friendly Workplace Conducive to Productivity

For most business owners, a win-win situation is one in which employees click in a collegial and positive way minus the drama and side-tracking that can sometimes happen with more intense friendships—though this isn’t always the case. The friends at work question may not be as cut and dry as just determining that yes, it is okay for people to make friends at work, or no, you’d rather people avoid establishing friendships within the context of the office. Work friendships, according to some studies, can actually lead to enhanced performance. One such study headed by Rutgers University in 2016 showed that performance review scores were higher as a result of the existence of employee friendships. It would seem that it comes down to an issue of balance.

There is a middle ground. An ideal and productive office atmosphere—friendships aside—is generally one that managers and leaders consciously work on creating; that is to say, by actively promoting a workplace and culture that balances friendliness and productivity, you help to circumvent some of the problems that could come with employees making friends in the business.

  • Create a Company Culture of Inclusion and Collaboration

    There is a great deal to be said for companies that are proactive in establishing a company culture, what’s more, a company culture that foregrounds diversity, inclusion and also collaboration. A culture of inclusivity means that employees are unafraid of speaking up, of approaching managers and colleagues with their questions and ideas. Deliberately ensuring that yours is a company culture of open and honest communication means that idea-sharing is more prevalent and therefore, people get to know one another in more thoughtful and professional ways.

    Oftentimes, one of the drawbacks to workplace friendships that ultimately leads to employers saying “do not make friends at work,” is the fact that cliques can form. This inevitably segues to those not included feeling left out. But by fostering an aura of inclusivity and collaboration, you have a good chance of bringing more people in your workplace together in meaningful ways.

    Related: How an Employee Relations Strategy Supports Your Company's Culture >>

  • Talk to Those Who Do Have Workplace Friendships

    And when you are discussing topics of this nature, you might ask the employees involved in certain “friend groups” to keep the dynamics of that relationship outside of the office. If you are uncertain as to how to bring up this topic with specific individuals within your company, you could first seek the advice of experienced HR consultants who can guide you in terms of acceptable language to use in this context.

    The key here is to circumvent those feelings of exclusion that other employees might experience in the face of not being invited somewhere or not being included in a discussion pertaining to after-work interactions. Also, encouraging employees to reach out to someone with whom they might not have a friendship per se, can also be conducive to establishing a more collegial atmosphere.

  • Hold Office-Related Events that Include Everyone

    This is a great way to “get people talking” beyond simply the conversations held within the confines of the office. Fortunately, there are a wide array of activities and events that you can hold that will help people engage with one another in a more casual setting and in the process, facilitate connections between colleagues who may not otherwise really know each other.

    The options here in terms of potential events run the gamut, from something as basic as an office dinner or lunch to an athletic outing to even something more active and hands-on such as an escape room or an office “game day.”

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Handling Issues When Friend Turns to Foe

Perhaps it is not quite as dramatic as friends turning to foes, but you get the picture. If there are friends at work who hit a rough patch and as a result, the friendship gets fractured, then things within the office can get a little dicey. So, as the boss what should you do? Should you step in? Let the situation run its course? You could first try and work it out in accordance with whatever conflict resolution language you might have in your employee handbook. However, if the problem seems to necessitate a more comprehensive course of action to avoid having this negativity affect everyone in the office, then you may need to consult with a human resource specialist.

The key is to balance a friendly atmosphere with a professional one. Let your employees know where you stand on specific issues of fraternization and if conflict does arise between workplace friends, it is important to be proactive in stemming this conflict before it does affect business. The HR consultants of Axcet have years of experience dealing with just these types of workplace issues. Call today to set up a time to chat and see if we can meet your Human Resources needs.

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