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Friendship: Making It Work

Published: August 7, 2007 | Last Updated: July 13, 2023 By | 3 Replies Continue Reading

A recent article in USA Today posed the question about whether or not friendships in the workplace are good or bad. It simply isn’t that simple.

I just finished working on an article on workplace friendships for my monthly Mind Matters column in AAAS ScienceCareers.org (I’ll let you know when it’s posted). Depending on the setting, the task at hand, the players, and their social and organizational roles in relation to each other, the outcomes can go either way. At their best, these friendships can enhance job satisfaction and productivity—but many times, they can diminish one, the other, or both…

Rachel Morrison, PhD is an organizational psychologist at Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand who conducts research on interpersonal relationships in the workplace. Morrison and a colleague recently conducted an internet survey of 400 individuals spanning a wide range of occupations, industries and nationalities. While most empirical research focuses on the positives, she found that friendships can be stressful and distracting. Also, boundary issues are often challenging for close friends who work together.

What if your friend is your supervisor or subordinate? Can you speak to each other honestly? How much information are you willing or do you need to share with each other?

What if your friend is a peer who isn’t pulling her share of the load—thus, making it worse for you? Do you ignore it or say something to her? Do you snitch to your supervisor?

The bottom line on working relationships: Proceed with caution. Having a friend at work can make it a joy to come to the office every day but when things take a nosedive, it can be a disaster.

Morrison is all for friendly work environments but points out that it may be a good idea to keep some distance and not get too close. She also stresses the important role that managers need to play in recognizing and finessing potential problems among friends at work.

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Category: KEEPING FRIENDS, Workplace friendships

Comments (3)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I replied to your comment but it went in the wrong place. Please see above. Workplace friendships have and can damage careers but can also be valuable, life long friendships. The workplace has its special pitfalls but that doesn’t mean every friendship formed there will end up badly. My mother made friends at work who remained with her during her whole life. At her death in fact the friends who showed up and helped us and grieved with us were the work friends she formed decades ago. So friends at work can work. And can work beautifully.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I have written before to say that I have friendships decades old that were formed in the workplace. I know other people who also have life long friendships from work. This sometimes has not worked out. But the times it has worked it was worked well. Yes I do know of workplace friendships that have soured or turned toxic. But some have been golden. You cannot make a “it is 100 percent wrong” evaluation for everyone.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I cannot understand why women in particular think that friendships can survive in the workplace. Workplace friendships can damage careers

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