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Work Friendships

Workplace friendships are almost always problematic.

I concede that there are strong justifications for workplace friendships, but in our overzealous effort to portray our workplaces as happy, friendly, and as a place to belong, we de-emphasize and ignore the downsides of workplace friendships.

Downside of Work Friendships

Workplace friendships will always exist, and rightly so. We spend too many hours at work to not be able to develop a friendship with at least a few of the people we work with.

Business owners and managers of teams at work, however, need to be aware of the downsides to workplace friendships. Left unattended, these friendships can have a deleterious effect on the other co-workers, on the company’s productivity and on the ability to draw future employees.

Some of the downsides to workplace friendships that are frequently dismissed and overlooked are:

  1. Your workplace becomes a replica of a high school cafeteria where all the little groups and cliques consistently congregate. When not focused entirely on work, employees always gravitate to their own circle of friend which, for the most part, are impenetrable to outsiders.
  2. Each circle of friends becomes a silo where only their ideas are heard and communicated. If you have ever wondered where gossip starts, this silo of friends is a good place to look.
  3. Friends lobby for friends. The want to be on the same team, the same projects, and within the same proximity.
  4. Friends require time to catch up with each other and share what is going on. While this doesn’t have to be during work hours, the temptation to text, email, or call during work is extremely tempting.
  5. When one part of the friendship is unhappy, all the friends are unhappy. As one mentor of mine would say, “When one friend sneezes, the other friends catch a cold.”
  6. Friendships across hierarchal lines can produce favoritism, abuse of authority, and conflicts of interest.

Dealing with Friendships

Friendships will always develop at work. In fact, we want them to develop because a workplace without any friendships would be a cold, lonely place to spend eight (or more) hours each day. So, for the business leader, we must continually manage these workplace friendships.

The best way to deal with workplace friendships is proactively.

  1. As a manager, treat every person under your authority equally.
  2. Be open about friendship boundaries. Frequently discuss the appropriate times for friends to catch up and the proper way for them to communicate.
  3. Let it be known that you intentionally mix teams up ensuring they are made of differing voices and differing backgrounds. Without saying as much, you let it be known that friends will probably be separated in assignments.
  4. Create an atmosphere where employees who normally do not mix get an opportunity to interact.
  5. As a manager, involve yourself in many of the groups and cliques that will inevitably form so you have the ability to interact and intercede when issues arise.
  6. Spend time with your next level of management below you discussing the perils of cross hierarchical friendships.

The Bible

Friendships are part of God’s plan for us. God strongly emphasis His desire for friendships just as Jesus had many close friends. But the Bible acknowledges that even friendships have boundaries. Even though he was considered a close friend, Peter was sternly rebuked when he crossed the line and attempted to draw too much authority from Jesus.

Proverbs 19:4, 6 says.

Wealth attracts many friends,
    but even the closest friend of the poor person deserts them.
Many curry favor with a ruler,
    and everyone is the friend of one who gives gifts.

King Solomon, who wrote the book of Proverbs, points out that people are not always friends for obvious reasons.

While we cannot and should not strictly deal with workplace friendships in an overt manner, they need to be managed to keep the influences of these friendships from impacting your business.