Friendships in the Workplace: Asset or Liability?

  | 7 min read
friendships in the workplace

Human beings are social beings, naturally. If you get to see someone daily, interact with them regularly and sometimes even let them in on bits of your personal life; it only brings you closer to that person. It is natural to find common grounds with people around you and develop closer personal relationships as well as romantic ones. We are not talking about romantic relationships today. If you wish to find out more read this article here.  

Just How much does a friendship in the workplace affect you? Here is the good and bad

Friendships in the workplace, like any other kind of friendship enriches lives and gives us something to look forward to. Friendships have a profound impact on your career and in all honesty, for any productivity in the workplace, there needs to be a level of cordial and positive relationships.

The networks you create in the workplace and externally are mostly based on friendships and cordial relationships. Even that referral job that you got, it’s a friend who referred you. In short, friendships are key in life and work.  On the other hand, the workplace is a professional environment governed by rules and geared towards achieving set business objectives. It is not a social environment.

Most of the time, you are advised to keep your personal business as separate as possible from workplace life. There is a good reason for that. When people get to see bits of your personal life, they might start forming perceptions based on what they know about you. Other than that, there is the danger of failed friendships causing tension at work and negative feelings, leaked information given in confidence, not to mention cliques. We are human beings with emotions (good and bad). It is very easy to see someone who was once your friend buddying up with someone else and feel a tinge of jealousy.

So How Should you Create Friendships in the Workplace?

1. Know yourself when it comes to friendships in the workplace

Self-awareness is key in every aspect of relationship-building. It is the underlying tenet in emotional intelligence. Knowing yourself helps you identify your personality type and how it interacts with other personalities. If you know that you have a friendly and open personality that is easy going, you are likely to click very easily with people around you.

Forming friendship for you is easy, and consequently, dangerous in the workplace. This is because, as much as people feel you are approachable, charming and easy to talk to, they may take advantage of you and try to get information from you as well as try to push you into doing favours for them. If you are the aloof type that keeps to themselves and rarely say much, understand that you might be some sort of an enigma to people around you. If they think they don’t get you they might inadvertently leave you out of discussions or collaborations because they don’t know how to approach you.

Understand yourself and identify the loopholes in your personality that may rub off in the wrong way or encroach into other people’s privacy. Understand that you mustn’t talk ill of the organisation or other employees and learn to measure how much of your personal life you share with others.

2. Are friendships in the workplace really a priority?

friendships in the workplace
Workplace Cliques

If you were told today to choose between your source of income, where your bread is buttered and that thing your whole lifestyle stems from and friendship, you will choose your job without thinking twice. That right there, then should be your priority. The danger that comes with cliques in the workplace is mob mentality where standards and how to’s are set by members of the clique.

When this happens, you can be distracted from the reason you wake up every day, dress up and go to work. Your work will suffer and your boss won’t care that you are the queen bee in your little group of ‘the office elite.’ As a matter of fact, you and your friends will be beeping very loudly in the HR’s radar because you are distracting everyone around you. This could cost you your job or future considerations for promotions. Once you have your priorities right, your friendships in the workplace will be balanced.

3. Tread carefully if you lead a team

One of the biggest mistakes new managers make is thinking you can be friends with your direct reports. This is impossible unless you want to run a team of people who do as they please. The thing with friends is that you don’t want to hurt your friend. So you will find negative feedback such a difficult thing to deliver as a boss. Let’s not even get to when you have to fire your friend over under performance or misconduct!

In short, if you lead a team, look for friends within your peers or people in other departments that have no possibility of ever crossing with your own. Friendships with direct reports might also create tension and misunderstanding in the team since the other members of the team might feel that you are favouring your friend. Learn to treat everyone in your team equal. It is safer for you that way and your peace of mind reigns supreme.

4. Tricky situation if Your boss is your friend

friendships in the workplace - boss-junior relationships
Boss-Junior Friendship Dynamics

Now, we are not saying that you and your boss should never say anything else to each other apart from “hello” and “goodbye” every day. Aside from updates and feedback, the normal human interactions might ensue depending on each of your personalities. However, befriending your boss as a close friend might be construed as you nestling in get preferential treatment. The rest of your team members may openly of secretly accuse you of boot-leaking and being a sycophant.

You might genuinely like your boss as a person and want to be your friend but you need to be careful and professional. Remember that point above about priorities? You might want to read it again.

5. You must be ready for any eventuality when forging friendships in the workplace

Sometimes friendships, even the ones with best intentions, don’t last. Something just gets in the way. It might be distance, personal reasons, discovery of certain unpleasant aspects, among others. Either way, the friendship just fizzles and dies.

Now, a normal human reaction would be to move on or find another friend. Some of the normal negative feelings you might experience are regret, loneliness (if they were your only friend) and sometimes a tinge of envy when you see them cozying up with another friend.

All these feelings and how you react to the loss of a friendship in the workplace depends on two things; 1. How far it had gone. Had you spilled all your secrets and are now worried the whole office might be talking about you when you pass by? 2. Your priorities in the workplace. It is very important to remember why you are in that company and that everything else that happens is secondary.

Rule of Thumb When Considering Friendships in the Workplace

friendships in the workplace- keep it professional
Keep Friendships Professional
  1. Learn the value of confidence and secrecy. Do not share information given to you in confidence with anyone else.
  2. Choose your friends wisely. Look for people whose values and principles you share. Friendships based on value last longer than those that exist by virtue of being in the same department only.
  3. Beware of friendships that bring about uncomfortable situations and conflict of interest. Learn to walk away if a friendship doesn’t serve your main purpose of being at work (doing your best to hit targets and earn your pay)
  4. Your job comes first. All else is secondary. Respect your contract of agreement with your employer and ensure you do your part always.


Doreen Mueke
Doreen is the Senior Content Marketer at Ringier One Africa Media.