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Managing Workplace Friendships

2022-05-24 20:31:44

“Do you have a best friend at work?”


This is a question that Gallup has asked for 30 years in its employee engagement research. And it’s the one question that has generated a number of debates. But Gallup has measured its importance. Research has shown a link between having a best friend at work and employees’ engagement.


A study that included professionals from different countries – Canada, Sweden, Spain, Malaysia, Australia and India, among others – revealed interesting data:

46% professionals felt work friendships positively affect their happiness.

57% of millennial professionals feel happier when they have work friends.

50% of the respondents thought that work friendships are motivating.

39% felt friendships at work lead to more productivity.


However, friendships at the workplace can be tricky. At times, it may lead to a conflict between the professional and the personal, and even leave things awry. The boundaries between the personal and the professional tend to get blurry.


So, are there ways in which professionals could manage workplace friendships well and better? We’ve put together solutions, tips and cues to navigate this challenging relationship.


Be transparent

Secrecy can create friction between friends at the workplace. Knowing work friends’ salaries, new projects that they are working on, promotions, raises and other such details can make relationships stronger. Research has shown that transparency leads to increased productivity and motivation among work friends. Here are a few things you could practice:

  • Be transparent about things that you can share and the things that you cannot.
  • Establishing priorities can help foster transparency. This will allow you to do the right thing for your job.
  • Every time there’s a sticky situation, talk about it.


Develop conflict resolution skills

Susan David, author of Emotional Agility, warns, “don’t become so involved in a work friendship that it depletes your energy and productivity.” Annie McKee of the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education suggests a few questions to watch for key signs.

  • Is the relationship bringing you closer to your career growth? 
  • Are you both putting in the same amount of effort in your relationship? 
  • Are you comfortable expressing your thoughts and feelings that differ from your friends opinions? 
  • Are you able to see multiple sides to a problem that your friend is experiencing?

These questions could also help in conflict resolution. 


Create healthy boundaries

Don’t let friends at work become distractions. It’s important to know where and when to draw a line. Here are a few things that you could do:

  • Set aside time during lunch or coffee breaks for social interactions with work friends.
  • Always be conscious of what’s professional and personal. Specify your role when offering advice – “Speaking as your manager”, “Speaking as your friend”.
  • If you want to share any advice or opinion on the personal front, ask your friend for permission to share something on the personal front.

Be comfortable with strong emotions

Peter Bergman, leadership coach and author, emphasizes that those who have friends at work end up having strong emotions. Disagreements, conflicts, bias – people who have friends at work have to deal with all this and more. And hence, it is essential that friends at work develop comfort with strong emotions. Further, Bergman talks about the essential skills of communication, empathy, and listening that help in managing friendships at the workplace.


Setting boundaries, rules and norms in friendship is easier said than done. But once these are put into practice, workplace friendship can actually benefit employees. Google, Zappos and Southwest Airlines are among the companies that promote collegial cultures. Moreover, with organizations now having a larger number of millennial workers, the need for informality, friendliness, and blending of personal and professional. 


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