November 22, 2009
Friendly advice: Know priorities when balancing office relationships and work
When it comes to workplace relationships, the general advice is to keep your distance. After all, friendships can be tested by a number of different issues in the workplace. But the people we see every day at work often become our closest friends. It’s no wonder -- we spend roughly half of our waking hours with them.
So what’s the secret to balancing work and friendships, especially when things get rocky?
Know what comes first
When you make friends at the office, you need to keep some important perspective: You’re primarily at the company as an employee, not a friend. And remember that some bosses frown on personal relationships in the workplace.
The last thing you want is to risk getting passed up for a promotion or not be taken seriously because you are too much of a social butterfly, chatting with friends rather than working. Or because you let a friendship get in the way of your responsibilities -- for example, if your co-worker makes a serious mistake and you don’t report it because you’re friends.
“Work is work, we’re hired to do a job, and as long as that takes priority, friendships can emerge naturally, be very constructive and [be] quite enjoyable,” says Janie Fritz, associate professor of communication and rhetorical studies at Duquesne University.
You have to trust your friends, but Fritz says you have to be able to trust your work friends more. Whether you realize it or not, the friends you make at work can have an impact on how your bosses view your performance. If your friend has productivity problems or other issues, you might find yourself under greater scrutiny.
If you and your friend have a falling out and it turns out that he or she is the vindictive type, the last thing you want to worry about is someone spreading rumors or creating an awkward situation for you at the office.
Zip the lip
A major issue that tends to come up in workplace relationships, Fritz says, is when people divulge too much about their personal lives. “We’re human; we like to connect with others,” she says. “The problem is when we forget there is a public sphere and a private sphere.”
For example, sharing brief stories about your family is fine, but it’s best to save those long talks about your personal problems for social settings like bars or restaurants, not the office.
And while it may seem obvious, if you and your friends dislike the same people in the office, keep it to yourselves. If you spread gossip or rumors about others at work, it can quickly cause trouble for you with other co-workers as well as your boss.
The technology age
Fritz recommends that employees don’t “friend” each other or their bosses on Facebook and Twitter. “You just never know about who you let in and what people might say,” she says.
If it’s something you really want to do, keep things simple. Amp up your privacy settings so your co-workers can see as little of your personal information as possible. In general, keep things tame on social-networking sites so you’re less likely to get into trouble at work.
Another option is to keep separate Facebook pages: one for personal friends, another for the office.
Friends often have issues with each other, and that can complicate their professional relationships as well. Maybe your friend is constantly bad-mouthing the boss or gossiping, making you uncomfortable. Or maybe you’ve had a fight, or the friendship is just fading.
Fritz recommends “creating distance.” That not only means spending less time talking with that friend at the office, but also consciously steering more conversations to work-related topics. That way, you’ll be able to get back on task without alienating your friend or making trouble at work.
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