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Friendship at work becomes a problem

Published: April 15, 2016 | By | 11 Replies Continue Reading
A woman feels that her friend and colleague at work is taking advantage of their friendship.


Hi Irene,

I met this friend at a previous job where we worked in the same department but were doing different jobs. Over time, we got to know one another better, and my husband and I started hanging out with this friend and his wife after work. The four of us started a standing weekly get-together, where we would have dinner, talk, and watch a TV show.

I ended up leaving the company to start at another job in the area. We kept our weekly get-togethers going during this time (for a year or so).

He was not happy at the old company either so when an opening became available at my new workplace, I recommended him for the position. He got the job, and is now working directly alongside me. This new environment is overall more laid back than our old company, but it is still expected that we get our work done (In other words, we are not micromanaged). He has taken advantage of this, and spends lots of time at work slacking off.

Because we are the only two people that work in our department, I have had to pick up the slack to make sure we meet deadlines. He has become rather lazy, in general. He will choose the easy tasks to do, leaving me with the more challenging ones. He has lied to my face about doing a task that I know he did not do. He occasionally treats me as his secretary; asking me for immediate favors even when I’m in the middle of doing my own tasks.

I am the type of person who has a hard time saying “No” so I generally do what he asks, then hate myself later for it. We will also have discussions about work-related topics with each other and bounce ideas off one another. He will then present my ideas in group meetings like he came up with them! This is all very annoying to me, especially coming from someone who claims to be a friend. Amidst all of this, he and his wife still come over for our dinner/TV meetup.

The friendship is strained, and we don’t really talk about anything other than work anymore (and even then, I have started guarding what I say so that he doesn’t “steal” my ideas). I’m not really sure I want to continue the friendship, but I don’t know how to “break up” without causing problems at work. What is the best way for me to end the friendship, but still keep a cordial work relationship? Or, is there any way to repair the friendship at this point? As the friendship stands now, I don’t feel as if it adds any value to my life, so I’m not sure it’s worth it.

Thank you for any help you can offer!

Signed, Mindy


Hi Mindy,

It’s very nice to forge a friendship at work; it can make time spent at work more enjoyable and some studies even suggest that it can make workers more productive. It sounds like this one was going well until it got derailed by your friend taking advantage of you.

What if your co-worker wasn’t a friend? Would you allow that person to slack off, lie to you, and take credit for your ideas? Probably not. The standards for a friend at work shouldn’t be any less. Your work is your livelihood; your primary responsibility is to yourself and your employer to get the job done well. It’s not surprising that your friendship would be strained given this situation.

You need to have a heart-to-heart with your friend and let him know your feelings about the way he has been treating you and shirking responsibility. Offer specific examples of how he has disappointed you and let him know that you expect to be treated with respect. Try to be factual rather than emotional. Although this may be a difficult conversation to have, it will be easier in the long run than not confronting him at all. Otherwise, your frustration will only continue to grow.

Remain cordial at work. The weekly get-togethers are secondary to your work relationship. Based on his response, you can decide whether or not you want to continue them or take a hiatus.

If you can’t resolve this situation on your own, you may have no alternative but to confide in your supervisor for support and ideas. I assume your husband already understands why the friendship feels strained for you.

Hope this helps.

My best, Irene

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Category: KEEPING FRIENDS, Workplace friendships

Comments (11)

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  1. LATASHA says:

    Set this Mess of a Human Being down by the curb (like taking out the trash on garbage day, he reeks of everything pejorative as a co-worker & friend *friend with a BIG Question Mark). He is a Nightmare, & you, Mindy need to WAKE UP! My husband always says about courage to do something difficult or out of the ordinary fora person is the following: ” you need to blow on your thumbs & grow a pair!” In the words of Cornwallis, “This Ends Today!” you just can’t go on like this, it is making you miserable. If you fear a bad outcome for yourself, then start looking for another job NOW. What have you learned from all this, Mindy? Well, for openers, I’d say: “Never tell an acquaintance of a job opening in your current place of employment, its just not healthy or good business professionally or personally.” Just think of all the misery you caused yourself. I guess the adage of “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished” is true.

  2. Lisa says:

    I feel for you. I would try talking to him first. Beware that if you end the friendship he will make your work life extremely unpleasant. I can see him trying to get you fired. I would take care of the work problem first, after you do this the social one may fix itself and one less headache you will have to worry about. Be aware this person is a manipulator, and very possible a troublemaker to come. Please keep your eyes and ears open. I had a friend like this and I knew her every next step and cut her off before she could put her evil to use, she eventually got discouraged and moved onto her next victim. I wish you the best.

  3. Judge Judy says:

    He sounds like a jerk. A normal, decent friend (or even just a co-worker) would not need to be told not to dump his work on you or take credit for ideas that he knows were yours. If someone needs to be told then there’s no point telling them, in other words.

    It’s likely you just didn’t know him that well before and now that you do, your feelings have changed. It really takes a couple or a few years to get to know someone well rather than just see the side they want to show.

    I don’t see how you can be friends with such a person. I’d think it over and consult with your husband about how to get rid of this couple socially. Then it will be easier to deal with him professionally. Good luck. It’s really a shame some people feel the need to push and take advantage whenever they get a chance.

  4. Tracy says:

    With Irene on this one. Totally need to have a one on one with him and lay out what you have seen. I would also be sure to be careful in future about the boundaries between friendships and work colleagues. Definitely awkward

  5. Salstarat says:

    This confirms the wise advice to NEVER befriend a work colleague – it rarely ends well. This man is taking advantage of you for two reasons: because you are a woman, the misogynistic streak in such males often comes out and he is foolish enough to believe that he can get away with his errant behaviour; he is a “user” and believes that his one-sided friendship with you will allow him to get away with slacking off. DON’T LET HIM GET AWAY WITH IT!

    My advice to you is to undertake the following course of action.

    – The first thing to do is to STOP socialising with him and his wife;
    – Start to project a “COOL” and PROFESSIONAL demeanor;
    – Pull him aside at work and let him know, in no uncertain terms, that you are NOT going to pick up the slack for him and that you do not appreciate being taken advantage of. Tell him that his tardiness and laziness is having a negative impact on your friendship because you believe that you are being taken advantage of.

    You do not mention if you are in a managerial/supervisory role overseeing his work. If this is the case, and his behaviour does not improve, let him know that you will be forced to provide him with a written “warning”. I don’t know where you live, but in Australia, an employee (in private enterprise) has to be provided with two official written “warnings” (by his employer or supervisor) setting out the full details of his tardiness and/or reasons for possible dismissal. If the employee makes no effort to improve his/her behaviour after such warnings, then that employee can be put on notice that he will be dismissed within two weeks. This, of course, will no doubt spell the end of the friendship – but, hey, clearly there is no great loss here!

    Make no mistake about it, this person is not a real friend at all … he is self serving and using his association with you to bludge at work. Not a nice person.

    If you are not his immediate supervisor, you may need to speak privately to your employer and let him know about the problem. Do not “carry” the burden of this man’s laziness at work. It isn’t fair, he doesn’t appreciate it and he is the type of person who will just get worse – if you give this type of person an inch, he will take a mile.

    Sever all social contact with this man BEFORE you take the necessary action with him over his laziness at work. You will not be taken seriously if you attempt to reprimand him over work-related issues if you are still socialising with him and his wife. The chances are that he is FULLY AWARE that he is being lazy and disrespectful at work. Let him know that you are on to him and do it as soon as possible.

  6. Sandra says:

    Yikes, this is definitely a tough situation. I think you need to have a very serious talk with your friend/coworker, though it won’t be easy. But if you don’t, this situation will only get worse, not better, and it’s heading down the wrong road already, both at work and socially. But definitely talk it over with him — before you go to your boss. Outline all the problems you’ve mentioned to Dr. Irene, clearly and calmly. I don’t know if your friendship outside work can handle the strain, but you already mentioned that you are willing to give it up, since you asked about ending the friendship.

    It seems to me that it would be a good idea to pull back from the weekly get-togethers until you get the work problem resolved. Again, you can’t do that easily without first talking to your friend about his behavior at work. At the very least, you will feel better for having been open and honest.

  7. Davide says:

    We are all unique, & what works for one person may not apply for another. What stands out to me, Mindy, is that you seem not to have considered sitting down with your ‘friend’ and talking things through. When I read that you are already thinking of ending the friendship I wonder whether you see yourself as lacking the communication skill to initiate and/or handle a potentially difficult conversation with the other person; or whether, in your world, once someone has crossed a certain line there’s no return and you’re ready to move on. In an ideal world how would you see yourself handling this situation and what would be a realistic best-case outcome?

  8. LATASHA says:

    This man is what is known in business as “Duck,” an employee who has a detrimental effect on productivity. The only thing consistent about him is his that his work is sub-standard, he doesn’t take responsibility for himself. Mindy’s problem with her males friend at work goes deeper then their supposed friendship.

    It appears that not only is he a Slacker, he is a Sneaky Slacker (stealing Mindy’s ideas & presenting them as his own) he is also a Card Carrying Work-Related Misogynist who see’s his “maleness” as being superior. It is an established fact, that most women are Team Players, in their personal relationships with their spouse and also in business. Men for the most part like to Manage things & people, whether they have been designated/assigned or not to do so.

    I have a question for Mindy, how does your male friend treat you socially away from work prior to his coming on board with the company? How does he treat his wife for that matter? is he dismissive with her as well? I wonder if he worked alongside your husband instead of you, if he would try these antics? If he did, I guarantee your husband would put him in his place ASAP. BTW, have you told your husband about this, as it effects him as well. Most couples nowadays have careers, they are satisfying at times, but mostly it is because it requires two incomes for a household to make it. Your male friend is causing you daily stress and thereby jeopardizing your ability to provide for your family. The fact is he is Pirating your ideas when the two of you brainstorm. A good co-worker would say, WE discussed this matter & give examples of your ideas and his (I highly expect he has none). For that matter, why is he the one taking the lead at sit-down meetings with the boss? YOU have to speak up, Mindy. When having a meeting with the boss, and you see the direction its taking again (ie, he is about to Pirate one of your ideas) you say in a demonstrative tone, say his name, “Fred, I got this,” and present YOUR ideas and proposals. YOU CAN NOT LET HIS BEHAVIOR CONTINUE IN REGARDS TO THIS MATTER!

    You should have a sit-down with this man at lunch or during work hours. Better yet, the next time you & this man socialize, talk to him about all these things in depth. Have your husband present as well. I say this because in business when there is a problem with an employee, Management has two people present during the meeting. One is the “Interrogator” and the other is the “Witness.” Your husband is your Witness to see what this man actually will say when confronted with these issues. If this doesn’t resolve the problem, then as a last resort, talk to the boss and let him know what has been going on. Worse comes to worse, if you are fired, in a short time frame, Management will see how this man fails without you. Sadly, in many companies, there is always employees that are Slackers. Your misfortune is double fold,you work with one who claims to be your friend. He is a User and has abused your friendship connection, and to survive professionally and for your emotionally health, you may have to sever this friendship. I assure you, your husband will understand when it comes down to your ability to earn and your Financial Lifestyle as a couple. What have we learned Mindy? Never mix Business with Friendship from outside of your work. Sort of like Separation of Church and State, they just don’t mix.

  9. Sheryl says:

    Definitely a tough situation. It’s nice to have friends at work but this is a case where business and pleasure do NOT mix.

  10. Ben says:

    Good advice Irene. A “friend” who takes advantage of a “friend” is no friend at all.

  11. Amy F says:

    I agree with Irene. A friend should treat you better than an acquaintance whether in or out of the workplace. Consider your part in the sepcenario, your tacit agreement with the dynamics of your relationship. You’ve got to stand up for yourself in an assertive manner. Use I statements, ” when you ask me to make photocopies, I feel frustrated like you value your time more than mine.” When a problem arises, address it immediately, “I’m angry that you told Joan the idea to streamline department A and B was your idea. Please clear this up with an email and cc me.”
    When you talk to him, don’t go back too far into history because the discussion loses some credibility.
    Going forward, address issues as they arise. In the meantime, document the offenses in case you need to approach personnel or your supervisor.
    As for the friendship, you’ll see how things work out with work, but for now, your personal relationship seems at best, on hold.

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