Corporate culture often sets the tone for how people interact in the workplace, but it is not everything. Personalities often determine how relationships evolve and grow. Some people are more outgoing than others, and when relationships begin to form, it is common to have conversations that go beyond work topics.
This human aspect is important in almost any workplace. After all, many people spend more time with their coworkers than they do with their spouses and children. With that in mind, however, it is important to know where to draw the line. Coworkers are not family and even when friendships form, the office is not a place to handle personal relationships.
What are the drawbacks of getting too comfortable with coworkers? There are a few.
Workplace rules are different from anywhere else. A playful comment on a friend’s appearance may acceptable in a social setting. At work, it could risk a sexual harassment charge — if the relationship takes a turn to the worse. Although grave consequences of this type are uncommon, they become more likely if you let your guard down and you mix work and fun loosely.
That is not to say you must be scripted at all times when you are socialising with coworkers. Instead, you should have a slightly more conservative approach than the one you take with longtime friends. This is particularly important if your communication is in writing over email or text or using company software. Documented conversations that can be forwarded by mistake or retrieved later can be detrimental to your career.
If you’re friends with some coworkers and not others, there could be a perception of preferential treatment especially if you’re in a leadership position. The mere fact that there is a circle of people who are closer to you may concern those who are left out of the circle.
To end speculation, make sure that you never treat your friends any different from others, and no promotions, raises or bonuses are given except in line with the company policy and merit. If you’re in a position of setting schedules, allowing flexible hours, or the like, you should always keep an even approach toward all of those who report to you.
Finally, don’t confide to someone who reports to you about others in their teams. Although you might trust this person, you never know how the situation could change and how your confidential information will be handled and interrupted. Remember, office politics are fuelled by people who feel obliged to communicate points of truth or gossip with others.
Tough changes in role
In some situations, your relationship with coworkers may change over time as one of you climb faster up the corporate ladder. When they are friends with you, the situation can get complicated quickly. For example, a lazy co-worker who is a great friend and a fun person to hang out with after hours may become a burden and a drag on the team if this person reports to you.
In such a case, you may have to direct this person, take some serious steps to improve his or her performance or take disciplinary actions if needed. Your personal relationship will only make it harder to handle this already tough situation. But you must be prepared to set aside your personal connection and do what is right.
How to balance these requirements? Do develop your relationships with coworkers as needed now and today, but if your formal connections change, be prepared to keep personal matters out of the workplace.
Oversharing personal life
When you get personal with coworkers, you may tend to overshare your personal life details. Being kept up late by a crying baby, trouble with your spouse, illness or thoughts about changing jobs and moving somewhere else could be all topics of discussion. Your coworkers may inadvertently share such details with others and without an intention to sabotage you, you may be perceived to be distracted, run down or uninterested, which could hurt your professional development potential.
The best route is to be personal but still maintain a level or privacy. Think of whether you feel comfortable or not if what you say is shared with everyone in the office and think of what impression will it give people whose opinion matters to you. Confiding to one or two people about your personal life is one thing. Sharing details of your emotional ups and downs with random coworkers can backfire quickly.
By Rania Oteify
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