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Professional colleagues or close friends: Which is OK?

How much friendship is too much when it comes to your co-workers?

Professional colleagues or close friends: Which is OK?

You’re at work a lot. Naturally you’re going to make some friends in the process.

But when do these friendships conflict with your on-the-job responsibilities?

It’s a tricky thing to pinpoint. That’s why we asked careers expert Cy Wakeman, owner of RealityBasedLeadership.com, to shed some light on how much friendship is too much.

Monster: Should you have a social life with your colleagues/co-workers? Why or why not?  

Cy Wakeman: Some interaction outside the office can go a long way to help strengthen working relationships, and it’s not about whether or not to have them; it’s more about what you are using those relationships for. Use your social time together to get to know one another, to challenge each other in life and in work, and to build each other up. Don’t use the relationships to have the "meeting after the meeting" (i.e. complaining about company, having conversations that you wouldn’t have in the business setting).

Monster: What sort of relationship in work or out of work is appropriate from a leadership perspective? 

CW: Your role as a leader never changes and too much socializing could put you in the dangerous position of sharing your personal opinion about company decisions, which is a cardinal sin. Remember, it is your action not your opinion that adds value and when you are a leader you forfeit the right to your own opinion in many ways. Your role dictates that you are aligned to the organization. In the same way, when your colleagues get promoted your relationship needs to change. Mentoring relationships are always appropriate but be careful of your after hours activities.

Monster: Does this change whether it’s a junior to senior relationship as opposed to a lateral relationship?  

CW: Colleague-to-colleague it is important to be well rounded. Be fluid and have a diverse support network. Part of your time outside of work is about recharging so be on the watch out for spending too much time with co-workers.

Monster: Can you provide some examples of what would be considered appropriate and inappropriate?

CW: Team building, gathering your entire team together outside of work, rewarding your whole team by bringing them together to celebrate success are all examples of appropriate socializing examples. As a leader you have some social responsibilities like attending weddings, funerals, baby showers and other important life-changing events related to your direct reports. These are key moments when you can show people that you, through your presence, are supportive and interested. This is not a time to play favorites. This is one area where equanimity is important.

Monster: Does this change office-to-office or should most workplaces follow guidelines of some sort?  

CW: Personal accountability suggests that it doesn’t matter what the office guidelines suggest. It is up to each of us as professionals to maintain a balanced, healthy, professional life. If you do this poorly you will have natural consequences like lending money and not getting repaid, having responsibility for your employees by day and by night, or being accused of playing favorites in ways that are not productive.

Monster: How much distance do you recommend for managers to employees? 

CW: Be socially supportive but don’t socialize. Attend key life events but avoid just hanging out. You are like a dignitary who makes appearances — come on time and leave early. Never indulge in many spirits and keep your behavior and your conversation professional. You must be your own handler.


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