When you work with people day after day, you’re bound to make friends. If handled correctly friendships can make work so much more enjoyable, or at least tolerable if you’re in a less than desirable job, but there can also be some pitfalls if you’re not careful.

Some of these friendships in the office will outlive the job; others will not. In either case, office friendships are a valuable part of any professional network and can be a boost to your career if managed in a professional manner. If mishandled they can do a tremendous amount of damage.

What You Need To Know

Beware oversharing

Share with caution. Take the time to get to know your co-workers a bit before divulging personal information and stay appropriate and professional even with those you trust. Have clear boundaries about what is “shareable” and what is not. Think “TMI” (too much information.) Family updates, hobbies, interests, educational pursuits, etc. are all fair game. Illegal activities, intimate details, and “resume exaggerations,” not so much.

Nix the complaining

No matter how well you know your “office friend” don’t gossip or complain about your boss. That’s a big no-no. It puts your office friend in a very uncomfortable situation and could be potentially damaging if your words ever reached the ears of the wrong person. Save your venting for your partner other personal friends outside of work.

Maintain individuality

Be careful that your office friendships don’t obscure your individual accomplishments and separateness.  You still need to build and protect your individual reputation on the job. Especially in the beginning of your career, you need to shine and stand out from the crowd. Office alliances are part of the work culture, that’s fine, just don’t let your own contributions become overshadowed.

Watch the gossip

It’s natural and normal for people to show an interest in what other people do and say. It’s not necessarily all bad providing it isn’t malicious, but be careful. Gossip can cause hurt feelings and stir up trouble and office drama create enemies that you don’t need or want. If you stay positive in your office conversations, you’ll never need to defend your words or repair hurt feelings. It’s important to build a reputation as a person who is respectful and who can keep information confidential, not as the “office gossip.”

Don’t play favorites

Try to collaborate with and get to know other co-workers, so that they don’t feel excluded. It’s nice to have a friend in the office, but don’t play favorites. Be very clear that you will not show preference or extend special favors, nor will you cover up mistakes or dishonest behavior and that you do not expect it in return. Remember that when you’re at work, you’re working. Don’t discuss personal situations or concerns at the office even if you have a personal relationship outside of the office. It makes other co-workers uncomfortable and blurs the office/home line.

Diversify friendships

Many of us spend the majority of time at work, it’s true. And the common interests and dilemmas we share with our office friends may draw us together, but having a circle of friends outside of work is important as well. We need to turn off our “work brain” and separate ourselves from work regularly to keep stress at bay. Our “non-work” friends can help us to do that. It also helps us to cultivate a variety of friends, broaden our circle of support and keep our lives full and interesting.

Navigate office “breakups” professionally

It’s inevitable that for whatever reason, some office friendships, like any other, won’t last. When it happens, and it will, it’s imperative to remain professional. Be polite and courteous ALWAYS. No matter what has transpired, do not gripe and complain about your ex-friend to other workers. If the other party is petty and unprofessional, let it go. Stay professional and focus on doing your job. Don’t feed office drama. You’ll save yourself a lot of stress as well as demonstrate that you can handle conflict professionally.

Building friendships at work can be very rewarding in many ways. If handled properly with a professional attitude, they can add a great deal of enjoyment to your work experience, but if handled poorly, they can make the office an uncomfortable, stress-filled place and derail your career in the process. Don’t let that happen to you.

Before making any friends, learn how to be a friend with yourself first: How to Be a Friend of Yourself

Featured photo credit: Two women drinking coffee via Shutterstock

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