Navigating Friendships with Coworkers? Keep These 4 Things in Mind

Have you been navigating office friendships? Keep these four things in mind.

In high school and college, people pursue learning and an individual degree. How one person performs outside of a group project doesn’t directly affect another’s grades. But what happens when everything is a group project? Life with coworkers means necessary relationships with a totally new goal. It’s no longer a shared grade – it’s the success of the business as a whole, and ultimately, your income.

Relationships with coworkers can be benign, life saving, or ruinous. Here are some tips to keep in mind when navigating friendships at work.

1. Your primarily relationship is built around the shared goals of your workplace

When you start a new job, the desire to be accepted and build a community is good and natural. However, unlike most other situations in life, your “job” is not to make friends. The first order of business is the business. Often a job requires relationships, especially for sales or marketing. But soul-filling, affirming friendships aren’t the goal of a new workplace. They are a possibility, and a benefit when they occur. 

Being close with coworkers is neither “morally correct” or “a bad idea.” Places of work, like any social space, offer a grab-bag of people and personalities that have to be taken on their own terms.  Friendships that detract from your deliverables aren’t going to help your career. Friendships that are supportive and encouraging can help your career flourish. Don’t waste energy on why certain people click or don’t click with you.

2. Boundaries are essential

In a team situation, personalities come out in full force. With the very real issue of salaries on the line, straining to keep up with colleagues can become a job in itself. Boundaries are necessary to ensure that you are able to have the space to complete your work without the added stress and distraction of a team member that requires too much socially or adds stress.

If you are comfortable sharing your life, go for it. Weekend updates, plans for vacations, and family milestones should be celebrated in all of your communities. However, no one should feel obligated to include colleagues in a private social circle. If that happens, wonderful! But it’s okay to feel like the team hermit.

Along with this, everyone should respect the boundaries that others are making. Maybe a colleague has a small child, or is going through a divorce. Maybe they have previous experience in the workplace that leads to caution. Creating and respecting social boundaries in a workplace is prudent.

Let’s be honest: there will always be someone who wants more from you and someone who wants less from you. Don’t let it get you down.

3. You don’t need to remain friends forever

When colleagues click, it’s workplace magic. Friends at work can be the balm that gets you through your day. However, if you are friends with someone based on a professional situation, once that situation changes, the friendship may as well. A “work BFF” might be the closest friend you have for two years, and then rarely spoken to. That’s okay! People come and go . The goal is to have a functional workplace, not a safety circle.

4. HR means you have recourse if things turn sour

Perhaps the safest part of friendships at work is that there is a professional relationship referee built into the structure. Workplace relationships come with scaffolding to address issues and challenges. This is a gift!

Human Resources personnel exist for a reason. If you feel uncomfortable, utilize that resource. When a colleague becomes a friend, it doesn’t mean they abandon being a colleague, and the obligations that come with shared professional goals. One thing young professionals forget is that it’s okay to place a professional relationship above a status as “friends.” At some point, everyone falls into an uncomfortable forced closeness or oversharing situation with a colleague. It’s important to remember that most companies have a built in structure to deal with these issues. 

Do your job and be yourself

The goal of any workplace is to have a happy, satisfied team that is able to accomplish a shared professional mandate. Friendships (and even relationships and marriages!) that grow out of a professional setting are a wonderful fruit of shared work. But they aren’t assumed, and shouldn’t be forced. Boundaries and self-awareness are the key to professional relationships. We are naturally social creatures. That is an asset, even when it’s challenging. 

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