Office friendships are an important part of work life.
They can help make us more productive and increase job performance, research shows. They also tend to make us happier.
It can be in a manager’s best interest to encourage friendships since they increase employee engagement, which helps with retention — an issue plaguing many companies right now.
“We know friends in the workplace give us a better sense of belonging, a better attitude and increased job satisfaction,” said Jessica Methot, associate professor of Human Resource Management at Rutgers University.
Trust develops out of friendships, which also helps in an office setting.
“People do business with people they trust, and people learn better in a comfortable office environment,” said Diane Gottsman, a national etiquette expert and author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life.”
But there can also be some downfalls to office bonds, like distractions, favoritism, gossip and rivalry.
The dos and don’ts of office friendships
Don’t overshare. It’s helpful to have someone in the office you can confide in. But set limits on what you divulge.
Workers can be quicker to label someone in the office as a friend, when outside of work, a person with the same relationship might be seen as an acquittance, according to Methot.
Keep in mind that any shared information could be used against you down the road.
“Just because you have a good relationship with them doesn’t mean they are your best friend,” warned Gottsman. “Use good judgment with what you share.”
Networking expert Ivan Misner recommended not sharing anything you wouldn’t post on social media for the world to see.
“Don’t cross the line,” he said. “It doesn’t stay private. It stays private for a week.”
Respect boundaries. Personal conversations are going to happen at work — that’s expected. But be aware of people’s workloads and schedules.
“The 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. But if you don’t manage it well, it can be distracting,” said Nancy Rothbard, chair of the management department at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
If you feel yourself being pulled into a deep conversation that you don’t have time for, don’t be shy about speaking up.
Avoid special treatment. Friendships between supervisors and their subordinates can be tricky. Managers want to avoid giving any hint of special treatment to subordinates that are also their friends.
“You have to be very careful as coming off as fair and making sure everyone is following process and procedure and don’t make decisions based on favoritism,” said Rothbard.
Don’t get clique-y. It’s great to have a steady buddy to grab lunch or drinks with after work, but be careful not to make people feel left out.
Sticking to the same person or group of people in the office can seem exclusionary and hurt office morale.
It’s also important to expand your work circle to get a variety of ideas and perspectives.
Don’t gossip. This isn’t high school. Don’t talk bad about your colleagues.
If someone is sharing information you don’t need to know or is too private, it’s okay to shut it down in an appropriate manner.
“Be polite and honest,” Gottsman recommended. “You can just say: ‘This conversation is making me uncomfortable and I appreciate you trusting me with this, but I am not the right person to share this with.’ ”
Be a gracious competitor. It’s common for colleagues to find themselves competitors for the same promotion. While you shouldn’t compromise your own chances because of a friendship, you should also be supportive if you aren’t the victor.
“There are opportunities that your friend is going to get that you may not. It’s about being a gracious winner,” said Gottsman. “When someone else gets a position over you, act mature and respectful and congratulate them.”
If you find yourself now the boss of a friend, it’s important to set clear expectations from the start on the new dynamic, advised Misner.