friendship at work, three women laughing

It has happened to all of us at some point in our working lives, or if it hasn’t, it probably will in the future – you become friends with your manager.

Or perhaps you are the manager, and you become friends with a member or a few members, of your team. As a manager, you would most likely hire like-minded people, and as an employee, you are drawn to managerial figures you admire.

When you spend so much of your life at work, it is important to forge strong relationships. These relationships are what help make sure you get the most out of your day and work efficiently.

But just how far should these relationships go? There is a marked difference between being friendly and being friends.

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Can we be friends?

Should you even try to be friends? If you are friends, how do you make sure any personal disagreements don’t spill over and affect your working relationship?

Or if you have a difference of opinion at work, how do you make sure it doesn’t affect your personal relationship?

With peer-to-peer relationships, it is more straightforward. Work is naturally a place where we create long-lasting friendships and professional acquaintances. Being friends with a colleague simply means making sure you both behave professionally when you are together at work.

Being friends with your manager is another matter entirely. The friend versus manager conundrum gets trickier when you take into account the perception of the wider team. Your friendship could be interpreted as favouritism, and that will be extremely disruptive to team dynamics.

If you are a manager, you have to take a step back and reflect on your actions as well. While you may enjoy a friendship with one of your subordinates, and perhaps on occasions, make certain decisions that are in favour of your subordinate-friends, you must take care not to neglect the rest of your team.

Favouritism is easy to spot, and it can ruin your reputation as an effective leader within the company, and industry.

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How to be friends

When you are at work, always keep in mind that:

  • You must act consistently in the company’s best interests
  • Address any issues immediately they arise
  • Accept the differing levels of seniority when in the office
  • Maintain respect for both relationships

As a friend, it can be difficult to issue instructions or feel comfortable addressing any problems but once you have identified this problem and set ways to manage it between you, it is surprisingly easy.

Watch team dynamics

If your team feels you are being unduly influenced by your friendship with one team member in particular, then the dynamic of power is shifted and unrest will undoubtedly set in.

So can you be friends with your colleagues? There isn’t an easy or definitive one. Every individual, every friendship and every organisation is different. The one rule of thumb never to lose sight of is that while your friendship may have begun at work, the manager versus employee relationship comes first and the friendship secondary to work, while you are on work time.

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