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Friends With Boundaries: Handling Friendships in the Workplace

Adam Uzialko
Adam Uzialko
Business News Daily Staff
Updated Aug 05, 2022

Don't let the line between work buddies and lifelong confidants get too blurry. Here's how to maintain professional friendships at work.

  • Setting boundaries with friends at work is important to your professional success.
  • Keeping your personal business private is very important to maintaining relationships in the workplace.
  • Never allow your friendships to become one-sided, or you could be taken advantage of.

When you spend most of your week with the same people, you’re bound to form bonds with some of them. It’s great to have co-workers who support your goals and inspire you, and the line between colleagues and friends can often blur.

“Work friends make time at the office more pleasant,” said Amy Cooper Hakim, a consultant at The Cooper Strategic Group. “You might share common hobbies or have a similar sense of humor. But don’t assume that a work friend is a true friend or confidant.”

Overstepping boundaries with people at work can cause tension, miscommunication and distractions. Follow these tips to properly and professionally manage your friendships in the workplace. [Dating someone at work? Don’t become HR’s worst nightmare.]

1. Don’t overshare.

Discussing weekend plans or last night’s reality TV show is a safe bet, but if you vent about work issues or your company’s flaws, you may stir problems.

“Work friends may not be as loyal as a typical friend outside of work,” Cooper Hakim said. “They may turn on you if they have an opportunity to brown-nose with the boss or to grab that prized corner office.”

To determine how solid your friendship is, ask yourself if you’d be close with this person outside of work, she added.

“If the answer is no, then tread carefully,” she said. “Enjoy the rapport and camaraderie, but recognize it for what it is – a friendly relationship at work.”

Don’t pressure a work friend into disclosing personal information with you, either, said Alexa Fischer, an instructor at Udemy. “Relationships work both ways, and if you don’t wish to have everyone know your business, then be sure not to ask nosy questions of them.” 

2. Be realistic about your dynamic.

When initiating a friendship at work, understand that it won’t have the same dynamic as it would outside the office. Don’t expect your co-worker to be your most valuable confidant.

“When you can distinguish between these types of friendships and appreciate the beauty of having congenial friendships at work, you will enjoy the camaraderie without the strings,” Cooper Hakim said. “You will also be less hurt if your work friend turns out not to be as loyal as you might hope.”

It’s nice to have someone to spend coffee breaks or have lunch with, but it doesn’t have to be more than that. Cherish that you have a buddy in what may be a stressful environment; embrace it as what it is, but don’t search for more.

Your colleagues are there to do their jobs, so understand that that is their priority, Cooper Hakim said. “They will likely choose the job over your friendship, if it comes down to it. And they may turn on a dime to please the boss, even at your expense.”

3. Set boundaries.

Boundaries are crucial in work friendships. It’s fine to socialize with your co-workers, but your relationships shouldn’t hinder your performance.

“Make sure that your work friend realizes that even if you are super chummy while out to eat, once you are back in the office, it is business as usual,” Cooper Hakim said. “For instance, your friend can’t expect you to back her on a project just because you are work buddies. And, similarly, you can’t expect her to promote your idea at the staff meeting if she doesn’t agree.”

Finding a balance between friends and colleagues can be tricky, but it’s imperative.

“It’s nice to be warm, friendly, and share a certain degree of information with the people you like and trust at work,” Fischer said. “If you know in advance what types of things you are willing to share, then you can create healthy boundaries right from the start.”

4. Stay goal-oriented.

Having friends at work can cause you to become confused about your true purpose of coming to work. At times, you may feel more loyal to your new friends than to the company you work for. But you need to keep in mind that you are all there to serve a purpose and that your friendship might not last outside the workplace. Therefore, you must always stay focused on your goals. Be sure to check and set new goals as needed to remain focused on your true goals, which should involve staying employed and increasing your earning potential over time.

5. Don’t trash-talk your boss.

Although it may be very tempting, trash-talking your boss could interfere with your workplace goals, help someone paint you in a negative light or even cost you your job. While some level of complaining about your boss may be a part of many jobs, you have to know the line and be sure to watch what you say and to whom you say it. The so-called friends you have at work may just be trying to get you to say something that will make you look bad so they can get the promotion over you.

6. Don’t let them take advantage.

Don’t allow anyone to take advantage of you. While some of your co-workers may be looking for a genuine friendship and connection, others may just be seeking out someone to dump the bulk of their work on or help cover for them when they make mistakes. If you find that someone is constantly asking you for favors in the workplace but you cannot request those same favors, this is a one-sided situation you need to stop immediately.

Image Credit: / Shutterstock
Adam Uzialko
Adam Uzialko
Business News Daily Staff
Adam Uzialko is a writer and editor at and Business News Daily. He has 7 years of professional experience with a focus on small businesses and startups. He has covered topics including digital marketing, SEO, business communications, and public policy. He has also written about emerging technologies and their intersection with business, including artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and blockchain.