It can be difficult to know how to navigate workplace relationships. We all put too much emphasis on the need to be friends with our coworkers, but it’s not for everyone. Some psychologists would actually argue against having true friends in the workplace, aside from maybe a few people whom you would likely be friends with outside of work if you didn’t work there. Why is this?
Having friends at work can have many downsides, the biggest one being a significant decrease in productivity.
One of the top sources of distractions in the workplace is from having coworkers in close proximity. Layer in being friends with these coworkers and that can be disastrous to your work efficiency and productivity. Close friends will want to catch up on personal and work gossip and that tends to take priority over deadlines or getting work done. This can be especially difficult in an open workplace environment where you share work space.
In order to make progress in the workplace, there is a need to have disagreements. It’s important that coworkers bring different viewpoints to the table and are able to have a healthy dialogue of opinions and innovative solutions. When there are nothing but close friends having this conversation it’s likely that everyone shares a similar mindset, which kills creativity. And when there happens to be a difference of opinions, people will without a doubt take work disagreements personally and then likely gossip about it later. Moreover, friends are not able to confront issues head on, because they are afraid of offending the other person or upsetting them. This all spells workplace disaster.
So, if you’re wondering if you have to be friends with your coworkers, the answer is No. Sure, there is a need to be accountable, communicate effectively, and be sincere, but it never has to cross the line into a true friendship. In fact, by being these things, but no true friends, you are able to separate your personal life from your professional life. This way small things like someone’s coldness or attitude can be ignored or looked past, but tangible work problems like not getting a task done or not answering an email, cannot.
There is a need to be accountable, communicate effectively, and be sincere, but it never has to cross the line into a true friendship.
Being emotionally removed from your coworkers makes it that much easier for you to put your best career interests first. If there is a tangible work problem that is affecting your work, you’re able to take action to resolve that without being too emotionally invested in the situation or feeling uncomfortable. It allows you to see the workplace exactly what it is meant to be, which is a workplace. And if and when you want to move on to new exciting opportunities, you won’t have to consider how your friends will feel if you leave. There will be no internal workplace influences over your decision making.
It’s also really nice to leave work at work and leave home at home. In many close friendships that are formed at work, chatting about work outside of work and chatting about personal life at work, is inevitable. There is typically no clear set of boundaries when you both share the common ground of work, so those conversations always creep up in your time away from work. This can make you feel as though you never truly get a break from work.
Not having close friends at work also allows you to form healthy professional relationships. Have you ever been in a situation where you may be senior to your coworkers, but because you have close friendships with them, they likely don’t see you or treat you as a senior? The days are filled with them making jokes, gossiping about workplace issues, or trying to just socialize or plan for outside of work events with you – which would otherwise be unacceptable workplace behavior with someone who is their senior. It would then be hard for you to keep that line of professionalism and authority with the team because they know too much about you personally, or because they feel you are one of them.
Coworkers may mean well when they try and pull you into the latest gossip or ask probing questions about your life, but it may not be appropriate or welcomed. Think about if workplace friendships are right for you and if you decide they are not, there are ways you can keep your relationships friendly and professional, without needing to be invested into a true friendship. And even if right now you are a little more close to your coworkers than you’d like, you can change it without coming across as rude or anti-social. By working to set some healthy boundaries for your workplace relationships, you can free your time and your mind to do what you’re there to do, which is work.