August 23, 2021

Can colleagues become friends?

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A friend of mine, Amy, was having a difficult time at work lately with her co-working friend.

Her friend, let’s call her D, who is the same age as her and was also working at the same office, gets promoted to be her boss. As a result, Amy and D have not talked much in the last few weeks. D thinks that they can’t be friends anymore. It would be not easy to manage a friend at work and to keep a healthy relationship with Amy as a friend. Besides, to be friends with someone at work, it can be awkward to talk about work once the friendship goes sour.

It would be nice to be able to have a friend at work. However, there could be some problems with that arrangement. Your friendship must not interfere with your work or your boss, and the line between your personal life and professional life is very thin.

How do you go about being friends with someone who is also a colleague? What are some of the rules of engagement for this sort of relationship? And how can you build this relationship over time without hurting your job performance?

We’re going to cover all these questions in this post.

My first question is this. What would happen if you were to become friends with a co-worker? If it’s unlikely that this will be a very successful arrangement, why bother to even think about it? Why not just be professional and friendly to your coworkers, or at least act friendly and supportive of them as long as they’re not bothering you, but otherwise let them run their own lives?

It’s good advice in general about being comfortable with workplace relationships: You are much more likely to succeed if you’re comfortable. But, just to be clear about the challenges of this particular arrangement, here are some of the things that could happen if you were to become friends with someone in your place at the office:

  1. If you were having trouble at work (i.e., if your relationship was not working), then your colleague friend would become aware of this and start dropping hints in casual conversation and subtle ways. This could cause a lot of gossips and create problems for both of you.

  2. Your personal feelings about your coworker might conflict with your professional responsibilities and goals. For example, you might have a crush on a colleague, but you’re not supposed to date them. Or you might feel that your friend at work is being treated badly by their supervisor. If you were to tell others about how they were being treated poorly, then it would not go over well with your boss or anyone else who was trying to bully or pressure them into doing something they’re not supposed to be doing.

  3. You could begin spending too much time socializing with your colleague and feel like quitting because you’re spending all your free time with them instead of pursuing outside interests. Even if this is not the case, others could feel this way about this arrangement and talk about it behind your back.

  4. Your colleague might get into some trouble at work and become dependent on you. If you were to stop being their friend, it could have a negative impact on your relationship at the office. On the other hand, if you were to stay friends with them and try to help them out of this trouble, it could get back to your boss or even others.

  5. You could be asked by others (including your boss) why you’re seeing so much of this friend. It’s possible that they could think that there’s something going on between you and this person that’s inappropriate for the workplace.

  6. You could be accused of bullying by another co-worker (possibly your boss or others in the office), who takes your “fun and games” too personally.

  7. You might end up making a mistake at work or otherwise letting your personal feelings about this person influences the way that you go about doing your job. When you have friends, you usually feel like you have to be supportive of them, even when it might not be in your best interest to do so.

  8. Your friend might get promoted and become your boss, which would make things difficult for both of you. It’s possible that you could get into some sort of trouble at work if you were to talk about them behind their back to others because they’re now in a position where they can punish you if you say something that they consider inappropriate.

  9. You might take things too personally at work and become upset or angry with your friend. You might be frustrated by their actions and not understand why they’re being so unprofessional. You might even be concerned about how a friend would treat you when it comes time to give performance reviews or go over your job description.

  10. A misunderstanding about something you said or could get back to your boss or someone else in the office. You might have a lot of explaining to do and possibly even end up losing your job.

  11. Your manager might think that you’re not being as productive as you should be because you’re spending so much time socializing with your friend. They might start trying to separate the two of you and ask each of you why this is happening. Do they feel like they’re being excluded? They could try to stop it from happening, which would be very awkward for everyone involved.

There are probably other reasons why having friends at work might not be a good idea, but I’m sure that these will do for now. Fortunately, there are also some reasons to have friends at the office.

During my first few years of work, I learned about something called the “bottom line approach,” which is a very simple way of looking at company culture. It refers to whether or not a business’s atmosphere is ethical and has integrity. A business that has no problems with cultural corruption and bullying will be profitable and generate revenue for the owner(s). One thing that integrity does is promote productivity because workers know that they can trust each other. If it seems like your company doesn’t care about integrity, then you might not feel like you can trust anyone in your office or even your boss, which makes it harder to be productive. Having friends at work can help in this regard because they will be loyal to you. Although it’s not always easy to be friends with a co-worker, they’re more likely to be supportive of you.

I think that one of the best benefits of having friends at work is that it helps you to feel motivated and optimistic about your job, which will make you want to work harder. If your colleague friend gets promoted, then they could even give you some helpful tips on how to get ahead in your job or how to even advance yourself. Good relationships are good for business. Socializing with co-workers also builds connections and networks between people within the company. This makes it easier to find new jobs if you need to leave your current position.

Having friends at work can make the office a place where the purpose is to be productive instead of a place that’s just a series of social events that don’t have any real value. Having friends at work can also help you to get along with others in other ways, too. I know that I would probably get along better with people if I had some friends by my side. It’s not necessarily easy having these relationships at work, but it can be worth it if only because it will make your life better in many different ways.

I hope that the above has shown you why I think it’s important to have friends at work. If you had someone to talk to every day at the office, then you could have a lot of fun and feel supported in many ways. It sounds like a lot of work, but it’s really not that much when you have a friend by your side. That’s worth it in my opinion, especially if you’re having trouble getting by in life or if you’re having problems coping with your job because of the stress or the lack thereof. At least you’ll be able to get through the day without feeling like a total outcast in the workplace!

Is having friends at work important to you? Have you ever had friends who worked with you? What did it feel like? Tell us all about it in the comments section! Thanks for reading and don’t forget to share this blog post with others, if it was helpful. Also, let me know if I missed anything important. I would really appreciate that! Thanks again for reading and have a great day!  : )

This article is written by:
Angel Lim @ Anradus Pte Ltd.
Industrial & Organizational Psychologist
MTMA, MTPA, APAM