There are two sides to making friends at work. On one hand, spending time in an environment surrounded by good friends can make your job more rewarding, relaxing and enjoyable, reducing stress and improving job satisfaction.
On the other hand, there are many reasons why personal and working lives shouldn’t mix – conflicting interests, personal arguments and non-work-related distractions have no place at the office.
It isn’t good to be rude, aloof or impersonal, but that doesn’t mean you should be inviting all your colleagues around to a Sunday afternoon braai either.
Naturally, chatting politely and congenially with colleagues can help you build up positive acquaintances and make your day more pleasant. But is it okay to go for drinks with them after work? Console them on the death of a loved one? Or join them for a week-long camping trip? It all depends on the following factors.
1. Company culture
Every company is different, and the rules that apply to a 500-employee corporation won’t exist in a three-person start-up enterprise. Likewise, every company has a unique culture; a hip advertising agency staffed by young creatives is likely to be much more tolerant of out-of-work friendships than a traditionally structured investment firm.
Evaluate your own workplace to decide what degree of closeness is appropriate – and then stick within those bounds.
Different principles apply to forming friendships with equals, subordinates and superiors. You should not have to take any special considerations into account when becoming friendly with a colleague of equivalent status.
Be careful if your potential friend is your manager or subordinate – this could lead to accusations of preferential treatment, bias or ingratiating yourself with the boss, and could seriously undermine the superior’s authority, respect and professionalism.
3. Individual personalities
It’s also vital to take individual personalities into account – some people love sharing their life stories and being the centre of attention, while somebody who is shy and retiring may not appreciate the same degree of camaraderie and may find it overwhelming. Respect body language and behavioural cues. While one person who has just been promoted may appreciate a big hug and a long chat, another may be quite satisfied with a curt handshake and a smile.
4. Types of activities
Naturally, choosing to invite office friends to extra-mural activities also depends on the type of event you are planning. A dinner out or a shopping trip is usually fine, while a private house party or weekend away may be crossing a line. In general, outings to public places and events are more appropriate than private ones.
5. Conflicting interests
One of the biggest risks to forming work friendships is that they can affect your job performance and reputation at the company. Would knowing that a colleague is a devout believer in a different religion, or a supporter of the death penalty, or a hobby doll collector affect your perception of them? Would you find it more difficult to work with them? Conversely, you may be more lenient with a friend who misses a deadline or turns in poor-quality work.
Another factor is trust – are you guaranteed that an office friend won’t share embarrassing stories that undermine you or gossip about your fears or unhappiness about certain work matters?
Overall, work friendships can be fun, fulfilling, and an integral aspect of a positive working environment. Just make sure that you take all factors into account before jumping into a budding office friendship.
The part-time University of Cape Town Effective People Management short course is presented online throughout South Africa and starts on 26 September 2011. Contact Kerry on 021 447 7565 or or visit email@example.com or www.getsmarter.co.za for more information.
Are you friends with your colleagues? How does the relationship affect your work? What happens if the friendship goes sour?