Does a Business Professional Need Work Friends?

“You want to be kind, professional and nice. But we don’t need to tell every person at work our deep dark secrets, and long-term goals and dreams.”

 – Dr. Amy Cooper Hakim

 

Forming friendships in the workplace can be a good thing. However, a successful business professional knows where to place boundaries. Sharing ideas and perspectives can improve productivity, performance, and harmony in the workplace. Although, becoming too close to your associates can cause conflict.

 

Setting Healthy Boundaries as a Business Professional

It’s better to stay friendly with coworkers, rather than establishing friendships. In other words, there is nothing wrong with having lunch with a colleague or coffee on a break. Inviting them to your home, though, could lead to sharing too much about your personal life and financial affairs. This can create friction and lead to damaging gossip, especially if you are promoted over a coworker who was competing for the same position. As Dr. Amy Cooper Hakim noted, “There is always a level of competitiveness when it comes to income and jobs.”

Sharing too much personal information can also affect future career prospects. For instance, a coworker could use personal details against you to ruin your reputation or even cost you your job. Let’s say you are unhappy with your current position. Venting to a colleague that you thought you could trust can backfire. They may secretly want your current position and use your words as a tool for promoting themselves.

Business owners, managers, and supervisors have to be even more aware of the complications that can arise from work friendships. Management must be vigilant in assuring fairness among their employees and peers. Most workplaces even prohibit dating and fraternizing between management and other employees.

 

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The Downside of Work Friendships

It can be difficult to maintain a sense of authority amongst people whom you associate with on a close personal level. Even if you are not in a higher position than your work friends, you may be judged by the company you keep.

If you are known to associate with someone who is considered a poor worker, management or your peers may develop negative opinions of you and your work. Due to your association and friendship with this individual, coworkers may not trust you with confidential business information. This scenario can obviously impact your career in a very negative manner.

 

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On the Plus Side

Friendships encourage coworkers to share ideas and ultimately improve productivity. “We know friends in the workplace give us a better sense of belonging, a better attitude and increased job satisfaction,” notes Jessica Methot, associate professor of Human Resource Management at Rutgers University.

On the other hand, it is important that employees recognize when they are impacting productivity. This is often evidenced by a coworker’s inability to complete tasks around workplace “friends.” It is expected that friendly conversations will take place during work hours, but it is vital that you be cognizant of everyone’s workload and schedules.

 

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Avoiding Workplace Problems

Interactions that may not seem like a big deal at the time can lead to major issues later.

 

Distractions 

A successful business professional will know when it is time to engage and when it is time to get back to their work assignments. Take this piece of advice from Nancy Rothbard, Chair of the Management Department at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. She points out that “[t]he fact that you have friends at work means you are spending more time on non-task-related activities.”

“That is good from an energy-boost perspective, taking breaks and revitalizing,” she continues. “But if you don’t manage it well, it can be distracting.” 

 

Cliques 

It’s not uncommon to have one or more friendships that lead to group lunches or after-work engagements. This helps to expand your network, which exposes you to a wider variety of ideas and perspectives. However, it can also cause other coworkers to feel left out, which lowers morale. 

 

Favoritism

It’s important never to play favorites in the workplace. This applies to everyone, but especially to management. The same high standards should be held for all employees, whether friendships are involved or not.

 

Gossip 

Talking about one coworker to another is particularly damaging in the workplace. It cannot only hurt feelings, but can cause serious disruption in the work environment. If someone tries to include you in gossip, it is appropriate to excuse yourself politely.

 

Rivalry 

The workplace is often competitive. However, the business professional knows how to be supportive of a work friend seeking a new position without compromising their own chances at promotion.

“There are opportunities that your friend is going to get that you may not,” says Diane Gottsman, a national etiquette expert and author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life. When someone else gets a position over you, act mature and respectful and congratulate them.” Networking expert, Ivan Misner advised, “If you find yourself now the boss of a friend, it’s important to set clear expectations from the start on the new dynamic.” In other words, be a gracious and professional competitor, not a rival.

 

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Keeping Cool During Business Travel

If your position requires travel, you know how exhausting it can be. You are away from family and your focus must be on the business at hand. It can be exciting, especially if this is a new experience, but it can also be daunting.

When traveling with business companions, especially workplace friends, it is very important that you stay on task. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself. However, you mustn’t lose sight of the assignment or cross personal boundaries. It is essential to keep an open mind and an eye out for opportunities to enrich your work-related travel experiences, such as a casual dinner with a potential client or business partner.

Be mindful of your reputation as a business professional and maintain strict boundaries with your colleagues. Although traveling together can bring you closer, always keep in mind that something that is inappropriate at the office is also inappropriate on a business trip.

If you are the more experienced traveler, assist your business traveling companions in any way you can with suggestions and reminders. In other words, look out for each other and, no matter what, keep the alcohol to a minimum. Remember, you are representing the company you work for and appearance is everything.

 

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Corporate Travel Conduct

Always plan in advance, whether it is for an airport shuttle, business event transportation, corporate travel schedules, or a hotel. The preferred mode of ground transportation for business travelers is a luxury black car service or limousine. This allows time to relax after a long flight or finish that big presentation.

Being prepared can make the difference between a great experience and a bad one. Make sure you include your business team in any decisions. Also, make sure you schedule some quality alone time. When traveling, your colleagues or clients may want to experience the local nightlife. Politely excuse yourself if any boundaries are crossed.

What about the rules on sharing a room? Sometimes you may have to bunk together with a colleague on business trips. If so, request a room companion with whom you feel the most comfortable. If falling asleep is a problem, you can always download a white or rain noise app, such as Sleepy Sounds. Always be respectful and discreet.

 

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Written By: Ryan Lubin