IAN FERGUSON: Avoiding problems with workplace friendships


Ian Ferguson

Having close friendships in the workplace can be beneficial for employee well-being and productivity. But there are also challenges that can arise when friends work together. These situations, and the potential risks, must be navigated with the utmost sensitivity. It is important to strike a balance between personal connections and professional boundaries to avoid potential conflicts and distractions.

This week’s article explores the advantages and pitfalls of working with your best friend.

Perhaps the initial benefit that surfaces about working with a friend is the enjoyment one can have with a team member who is also a friend. Research indicates that workplace friendships can help reduce stress, improve collaboration, boost communication and even increase job satisfaction. What a great body of research also confirms is that friendships at work can also create challenges when it comes to maintaining professional boundaries.

While it is natural to want to socialise and build personal connections with colleagues, it is important to remember that our time spent at work, and our interactions with colleagues, are ultimately intended to complete a job.

Maintaining a balance between personal connections and professional boundaries can create all sorts of challenges for everyone involved. When boundaries are overstepped or not respected, friendships can quickly lead to conflict and distractions, which in turn could potentially undermine productivity and teamwork. With this in mind, it is important for employees and managers alike to navigate the delicate balance between cultivating relationships, avoiding the creation of cliques and maintaining professional boundaries in the workplace.

Here are a few tips for establishing those work-friendship scenarios:

Limit times of socialising

Be mindful of how much time you spend socialising with colleagues. While it is important to build rapport and to get to know your colleagues on a personal level, remember that you are at work to do a job. Try to limit social activity to appropriate times, such as lunch breaks or after-work events.

Avoid Gossip and Negativity

Talking about colleagues behind their backs can damage your professional reputation and make it difficult to maintain positive relationships. Instead, focus on building up your colleagues and celebrating their successes.

Beware of your leadership presence

If you are in a position of authority, it is important to be cautious about how you interact with persons on your team. While it is okay to be friendly, be mindful of your tone and how you may come across. Be subtle in throwing your weight around and use varying methods of leadership evenly, fairly and appropriately.

Be clear and respectful in your communication

If you are having trouble maintaining boundaries with a colleague, it is important to address the issue head-on. Be clear about your expectations and boundaries, and be respectful of theirs.

While it is great to have close friends at work, maintaining professional boundaries could also help avoid potential legal implications. Setting clear expectations and boundaries, such as avoiding discussing personal issues during work hours or refraining from favoritism, can help to mitigate potential issues. Promoting team-building activities and encouraging social interactions outside of work can help to strengthen relationships and foster a positive work environment.

• NB: Ian R Ferguson is a talent management and organisational development consultant, having completed graduate studies with regional and international universities. He has served organisations, both locally and globally, providing relevant solutions to their business growth and development issues. He may be contacted at tcconsultants@ coralwave.com.


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