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Friends with Boundaries: Handling Friendships in the Workplace

Friends with Boundaries: Handling Friendships in the Workplace
Credit: Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock

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, Ph.D., of 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."

However, overstepping boundaries with people at work can cause tension, miscommunications 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.]

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," said Hakim. "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."

You don't want to pressure a work friend into disclosing personal information with you either.

"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," said Alexa Fischer, an instructor at Udemy.

When initiating a friendship at work, understand that it won't have the same dynamic as it would outside of 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," said Hakim. "You will also be less hurt if your work friend turns out not to be as loyal as you might hope."

Having someone to spend coffee breaks or grab lunch with is nice, but it doesn't have to be more than that. Cherish the fact 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 job, so understand that that is their priority. "They will likely choose the job over your friendship, if it comes down to it," Hakim said. "And they may turn on a dime to please the boss, even at your expense."

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," said Hakim. "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," said Fischer. "If you know in advance what types of things you are willing to share, then you can create healthy boundaries right from the start."

Sammi Caramela

Sammi Caramela has always loved words. When she isn't working as a Business.com and Business News Daily staff writer, she's writing (and furiously editing) her first novel, reading a YA book with a third cup of coffee, or attending local pop-punk concerts. Sammi loves hearing from readers - so don't hesitate to reach out! Check out her short stories in Night Light: Haunted Tales of Terror, which is sold on Amazon.