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Should you be friends (or more) with you co-workers
(October 2010)We spend much of our lives at work, and often spend more hours per week with our co-workers than we do with family or friends. Some say that being friends with colleagues helps the day pass faster, and creates a nicer work environment, but others swear that mixing personal and professional lives is a recipe for disaster.
I once worked for a company that had a policy banning inter-office relationships. The company even went as far as fining couples who had been found to offend, with a direct deduction from each pay packet that was then donated to a charity of the offender's choosing. A violation of all sorts of ethical (not to mention legal) rights? Sure! But, dubious company policy aside, should you become friends (or more) with your workmates?
My opinion, as someone who met her (now) husband at work and subsequently co-founded a company with him, is absolutely yes. But with some caveats.
Below I have listed the most common objections to personal relationships in the workplace, and my replies to them:
Staff will spend all day chatting/ gazing romantically at each other, and not do any work.
Well - maybe. But this is a behavioural issue, not a relationship one. Staff who never meet outside of the office can still spend all day gossiping about their terrible boss/ partner from hell/ crazy weekend, and flirtatious behaviour/ staff getting distracted by the attractive person in Accounts are also highly possible without a relationship needing to exist. If there is a problem with the way in which staff are behaving then this needs to be addressed as a separate issue. Staff should behave professionally at work, and do their jobs properly, regardless of relationships outside of work.
Other staff members may feel excluded by a relationship, or may feel that there is favouritism at work.
Again this comes down to how the situation is managed. I would agree that there are situations where it would be inappropriate for there to be a close relationship between a manager and a direct report - particularly when it comes to performance review times, pay rises, and disciplinaries. If a relationship evolves between two such people then the best solution would be for those involved to sit down with another manager and discuss how this should be handled in the office. It may be decided by all parties that the best solution is for one person to transfer to a different department or, in some cases, to move on to a new company.
If the hierarchy is not an issue, but it is the case that others are feeling put out, then you (as manager) need to review the situation. Are the friendly pair/ group behaving professionally and maintaining pleasant working relationships with other staff? Yes? Then perhaps this is just a case of office gossip that needs to be ignored, or the complainants dealt with. Are the friendly pair/ group behaving in a cliquey way/ excluding or singling out others, or giving each other preferential treatment? Yes? Once again the behaviour (not the relationship) needs to be dealt with.
They will bring their arguments/ pet names into the office. Why would they? Again this is down to you to ensure that staff know what behaviours are acceptable and what behaviours are unacceptable within your workplace.
When the relationship breaks up then one of them will have to leave.
Not necessarily. There are numerous reasons as to why a relationship or friendship breaks down, and not all of them are acrimonious. Even if they are, then it may be possible to transfer a worker to a different area where they will have less contact with that person. You may be thinking that this would be highly inconvenient, and exactly WHY you don't want the relationships forming, but the bottom line is that you cannot control every person's feelings toward each other. Colleagues with no relationship at all can form a dislike for each other, and these are issues that will always need to be dealt with when you employ human beings. And if someone leaves then that may be the best thing for them and for you. You cannot stop someone from making a decision based on personal reasons.
I don't want my colleagues/ employees to lose respect for me if they get to know me outside of work.
Ah yes... You have spent many years crafting a carefully styled image of the professional version of you. The professional you has great hair, dresses well, is intelligent, articulate, and emanates a quiet authority wherever you go. However, after dark, the personal you emerges. This person wears trackie pants, and slobs on the sofa eating pizza and watching trashy TV. This version of you gets drunk and sings karaoke, and says silly things. You are convinced that if your colleagues/ boss/ employees ever saw you like this then they would lose all respect for you straight away, and realise that you are not the slightly intimidating career dynamo that they first thought.
Well... So what? Maybe they would be a bit surprised at first, but maybe they would then realise that you are human too. Maybe they would like you better for it. Maybe they would feel that they knew you better. There is, of course, a limit here. I am not suggesting that all behaviours are a good idea in front of your boss/ staff/ colleagues. I am simply saying that maybe you should relax a little, and that it doesn't always hurt for people to get to know you - ALL versions of you - better. Just because you like a few glasses of wine at the weekend, it doesn't mean that you're not excellent at your job. The only time I would have a problem with an employee's extra curricular life is where it impacted on their behaviour and reputation at work. I consider several employees to be friends, but we all know when we are at work and when we are at play.
I don't want to be friends with colleagues on Facebook.
Well then don't! Tell them that you have a policy of not friending work people. But I would also suggest that you take a good look at your Facebook page, and make sure you are not posting anything that you would mind work people/ bosses/ customers seeing. Nothing is private on Facebook, so only publish information or photos that you are happy for the world to see. Oh - and don't invite junior workers/ direct reports to be your friends on Facebook. It puts them in a horrible position. Many people are reluctant to be friends with their boss on Facebook, but how do you tell the boss that you've ignored their friend request? If you're the boss then it's nicer to wait to be asked.
So, to sum up - I say go for it. Be yourself at work, but be the best version of yourself that you can be. Be friends with your co-workers, because we could all use more friends, and it does make the working environment nicer when people know and trust each other. Fall in love! But don't throw your judgement out of the window. Be professional, treat people nicely, and never forget that you are at work. Don't put co-workers in a difficult position by telling them confidential info. Don't say anything that you may regret on a Monday. Treat your company with respect. Apply common sense. Lastly, behave!!