Whether you work in an office, at a retail outlet, or someplace completely different, it’s always nice to have friends at the place where you have to spend the majority of your waking hours.
But before you start exchanging friendship bracelets with your co-workers, or naming them as the godparents of your future children, you’ve got to realize one thing – sometimes, work friendships can be taken too far, with disastrous consequences.
Many a person has been burned by a gossiping, backstabbing co-worker whom they thought of as a “friend.”
Even if you and your work buddies sincerely like each other, keep in mind that all of you are employees, first and foremost.
If your pal in the next cubicle is offered a promotion, it’s doubtful that they’re going to tell the manager to give it to you instead, regardless of whether they think you deserve it.
So does this mean that you should give up all forms of fraternization with your colleagues, start eating your lunch alone every day, and come up with excuses to miss the company picnic or holiday party?
Nope, definitely not!
You can still hang out with your co-workers and have good times with them. You just need to learn to set some healthy boundaries so your at-work relationships don’t become too close for comfort. [Read: 10 types of toxic friends you need to avoid]
8 tips to be friends with your co-workers while maintaining professional boundaries
If you’re not completely clear as to what that means, these tips should give you a good idea of when to take a few steps backward. Even if you’ve already crossed the line into the danger zone, don’t worry – that line can always be redrawn.
#1 What’s yours shouldn’t always be theirs
With your friends outside of work, perhaps you share everything – clothes, food, liquor, Blu-rays, maybe even vehicles. However, when it comes to your work friends, there are a couple of things you need to, for the most part, keep to yourself: your ideas, and your time.
If you’re involved in a brainstorming session, sharing ideas is acceptable, but if you have an idea for an individual project that could dramatically change your career for the better, don’t share it until it’s already in the works.
If you spill the details prematurely, and a friend tries to pass it off as their own, you certainly won’t be thrilled. Likewise, you can offer a friend five or ten minutes of your time in order to help them with a task, but don’t offer up so much time that you fall behind on your own duties and hurt your chances of success. [Read: 16 reasons why everyone finds it so easy to use you and take you for granted]
#2 Chit-chat is a waste of time
If you and a friend work beside each other, talking all day long might seem like fun, but if you do this too often, you’ll no longer get anything done. Plus, other co-workers working nearby, not to mention your boss, may get tired of hearing your voices.
It’s great to catch up with work buddies during lunch or break times, or be a part of the occasional gab session at the water cooler, but make sure you give the chatting a rest at some point.
Don’t have too many casual conversations with your work friends over email, either. This is one of the worst habits to get into, as it feels like you’re working, but it reality you’re accomplishing nothing of importance at all.
#3 Bailing out your friends is bad
You may be tempted to bail out your friends if they get in trouble with your boss, but you’ve got to avoid doing this if you want to remain on the boss’s good side yourself. If you bail out a friend, and your boss finds out that you did so, they won’t be pleased with either of you.
If you really don’t want to confirm that your crony was late for the fifth time in a row, the best thing to do is feign ignorance – after all, you may have been so busy with your own work, you didn’t even see them stroll in at half past nine. [Read: 20 signs you’re a people pleaser and don’t even know it!]
#4 Loose lips sink ships
Whatever you do, don’t spill a bunch of personal secrets to any of your co-workers unless you’ve been close to them for years. You may think that a certain person is in your corner, but when the push comes to shove, and you’re competing with them for a higher role or a prestigious new responsibility, your co-worker may in fact, out of desperation, use personal information against you.
The same goes for personal things you know about other employees – keep your lips zipped. Word travels fast, and you don’t want a two-faced cohort to use your gossip to ruin another co-worker’s career. [Read: Bad friends – 10 kinds of friendships you need to end immediately]
#5 Go easy on the booze
Stopping yourself from spreading secrets when sober likely won’t be too difficult, but for many people, alcohol can act as a sort of truth stimulus. Therefore, when spending time with co-workers, you must avoid getting to the level of drunkenness at which you no longer have a filter, and are just blurting out anything that comes to mind.
You’ll actually avoid a lot of potential embarrassment by staying semi-sober, as you surely don’t want to be known as the person who had a little too much wine and stripped down to their underwear at the boss’s birthday soiree.
#6 Competition isn’t always healthy
Between co-workers, a little bit of competition is bound to occur naturally. You and a pal may, unavoidably, both be in consideration for raises or promotions at the same time, or if you’re in a line of work in which everyone’s performance is constantly measured against that of others, comparisons between the two of you may be inevitable.
While you should never put your career on hold for the sake of a friend’s, you’ve got to resist the temptation to make every workday an exercise in one-upmanship. You’ll likely achieve your best results if you remain focused on your own performance, so if a friend gets some sort of special recognition, just congratulate them briefly and move on with your day. [Read: How to stop being jealous of someone else’s success]
#7 Friends doesn’t mean friends with benefits
Of course, some of the people you become friends with at work will likely fall within your gender of romantic interest, and there’s a good chance you’ll find at least one or two of them attractive, but don’t express your lustful feelings by jumping into the sack with a co-worker.
Dating someone you work with is hard enough, but having a friend with benefits at work can be even tougher. You may think you can remain emotionally unattached, and then find yourself crying silent tears of agony when they move on to someone else. [Read: 25 friends with benefits rules to remember]
A friends with benefits scenario might end on an even worse note if your sexy colleague happens to be your superior. They may become ticked off if you decide to end the fun, and take their annoyance out on you in a variety of offensive, career-damaging ways. [Read: 12 tips to keep in mind when you date your boss]
#8 Too much togetherness: just say no
One way to make a work friendship go stale quickly is to spend way too much time with another person from work. If you see Julie or Tim every weekday, you don’t need to be with them on Saturday and Sunday as well.
Seeing anyone six or seven days a week will cause you to tire of them pretty quickly; then, everything they do, including the way they slurp their coffee and the extra-noisy manner in which they staple documents, will get on your last nerve.
To stop this from happening, you need to know when to put a little bit of distance between yourself and your company amigos, and catch up with other friends instead. After all, the old saying, “Distance makes the heart grow fonder,” doesn’t only apply to lovers. [Read: 10 signs to recognize selfish people and 5 steps to stop them from hurting you]
If you’ve managed to stay out of all the sticky workplace situations mentioned here so far, congratulations!
You’ve successfully mastered the art of being “friends-at-work.” On the other hand, if these unfortunate scenarios sound like they were lifted directly from your life, you’ve got to make a conscious effort to change your behaviour.
Remember, your actions are always up to you! Once you redraw those essential boundary lines between you and the friends you work with and keep these 8 tips on how to be friends with your co-workers in mind, you’ll easily be able to balance your personal and professional needs, and enjoy the best of both worlds!