Being Friends with Coworkers: Potential Pitfalls

Hopefully, you like the people you work with. So much so that you’re starting to hang out with them outside of work. It usually starts with drinks after work, progress to brunch on the weekends and pretty soon, you’re making plans to go see the newest James Bond movie with them.

Becoming friends with coworkers is a pretty natural occurrence considering how much time you spend at work. But there are a few things to keep in mind when you voluntarily start blurring the line between your work-life and personal-life.

How to Determine Whether Your Coworker is Becoming Your Friend

How do you even figure out if your coworker is already in the “friend” territory or not? It’s always hard to tell since the determination of whether someone is your friend is such a subjective one. But here’s my rule of thumb: if you refer to your coworker as a friend to someone who doesn’t know that person at all, that person is probably more of a friend than a coworker. It’s your subconscious telling you where you think they belong on the friend/coworker scale.

Example: “I had brunch with a friend at this awesome place in Soho this weekend” vs. “I grabbed drinks with a coworker last night”.

Potential Pitfalls

1. Unintentionally Advertising Your Social Life

If you don’t share your social life with anyone in the office, you’re the only one who can share what you did last weekend with the people in your office. However, once you start becoming friends with your coworkers, you’re going to naturally your personal life with your coworker whether it’s through conversations during lunch or posting photos on Facebook. And the more people know about your social life, the risk that it becomes the topic at the water cooler becomes higher.

This doesn’t necessarily have to be because your coworker is a gossip. Sometimes, sharing information happens with good intentions. For example, let’s say that you hang out with two people very frequently but only consider one of them to be a friend. But your friend/coworker may feel that you guys are all friends. So, to that friend, it’s natural to share stories with that third person because your friend trusts that person, even if you don’t.

2. Breakup/Arguments

Friends fight. It’s only a natural part of any human relationship. But if you’re just friends and don’t work with each other, you can take a break from each other, reevaluate, and reconcile things at your own pace.

That changes if you work together. Having to see each other everyday in the workplace not only makes thing awkward after a fight, but also requires a longer time to cool off since you can’t take a physical break from each other. Even if you’re able to be professional about it in the workplace, there’s no guarantee that the other person will too. This potentially leads to awkwardness and gossip for other coworkers.

Sidebar: Being Friends with Managers

If you think being friends with coworkers is complicated, bring a reporting relationship into it and you got a real delicate situation. Here are some added pitfalls if you’re friends with your managers or people you manage.

3. Favoritism

Let’s say that you really like your manager and hanging out with him/her outside of work. But how do you do that without seeming like a brown noser to all of your other coworkers? Unfortunately, there’s only one answer to this problem. You have to work extra harder than any other person on your team so that when you get that cool project or a good evaluation, you feel justified that you deserved it. And if your team members become jealous and try to chalk it up to the fact that you’re in good relationship with your manager, you can point out all those overtime and achievements to justify why you got that promotion over others.

This concept also applies if you’re the manager. You, by default, have to be very careful with hanging out with your team members outside of work. By doing so, you can┬ájeopardize the respect from your team and be in an uncomfortable situation where they don’t take the things you say seriously because they can’t differentiate when you’re saying something as their manager or their friend.

It’s a slippery slope so if you’re going down that path, take caution. It’s not an impossible task, but you have to be willing to draw the line and make sure that they understand that when you’re in the office, the relationship will have to change.

4. Honesty is not always the best policy

I always try to be honest when I’m talking to my friends, but it’s not always applicable if your friend is also your manager. Let’s say that your manager gives you an assignment but you’re completely hungover from the night before. Asking him to give it to someone else is probably what you’d do with a friend, but it’s a pretty terrible move with your manager. Also, that not-so-favorable opinion you have of your team member? Better not to share that with your manager, although it’s something I would definitely share with a friend.

General rule of thumb: when you’re in the office, your manager is your manager, not your friend. Outside of work, use your discretion and only share things that you think it would not have repercussions in the office. You might think bartalk stays at the bar, but keep in mind that once you learn something, you can’t unlearn it.

—–

Overall, being friends with coworkers is a great thing. With the amount of time you spend at work, why wouldn’t you want to spend it among friends? But just remember that a black mark on your career is hard to erase, so take caution that you don’t take the bad with the good.

-J

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