It's natural to become friends (or at least friendly) with your coworkers. You spend eight hours every day with them⎯a good chunk of your existence⎯and you likely have a lot in common if you work at the same company. It can even be good for your productivity⎯turns out friendship in the workplace boosts employee satisfaction by 50 percent and those with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to fully engage in their work, according to a 2013 Gallup poll.
But that doesn't mean office friendships are all smooth-sailing. Here are four tips for balancing your professional and personal life, without the risk of ending up miserable.
Watch the office gossip.
A study from the University of Amsterdam found that 90 percent of all office conversation qualifies as gossip. That's almost all conversation! Not only does gossip distract you from getting any work done but it can also negatively affect your work relationships. A gripe about your coworkers to friends outside of work is fine (and often necessary), but be wary of complaining to a fellow coworker. You truly can't separate who knows who⎯or what small quip might strike the wrong ears.
If it comes up, keep your comments to yourself unless your friend has made you feel safe to let out a complaint. The smaller the group you complain to, the better. As Peggy Drexler, Ph.D., writes for Psychology Today, “Simply assume that anything you say can and will come back to haunt you.”
Keep office hangouts to a minimum.
Healthy friendships should have an open-door policy, but when it comes to the office, keep your door shut⎯literally. This is especially the case if you and a friend both work in the same department. Want to chat with a friend but you both sit in cubicles? Take a short walk together instead. Just be aware that people will start to notice your bond. Being attached at the hip can come with some limitations, including possible exclusion by other coworkers. And frequent visits may lead other coworkers to question your work ethic. If you're chatting all the time, when is your work getting done? As Forbes contributor Susanna Breslin writes, it might be one way you're hurting your career:
“You’re at work, but why? My guess is that if you ask most men, they won’t say to ‘make friends.’ But sometimes it seems like that’s a big part of what women are doing at work. Bonding. That’s nice…but work is dog-eat-dog, not kumbaya."
Beware of the power struggle.
If you and your friend are both on the same level professionally, there may be (and should be) some healthy competition for a more senior position. This could cause problems in the future when promotions are on the table. Make sure to evaluate your friend’s support. Does he/she support your professional ambitions? Or is there an element of jealousy? Then take caution. Even better, make an effort to foster relationships between coworkers who are more senior or more junior than you. Not only can it be beneficial for growth, both professional and personally, but you will likely end up with a valuable mentoring relationship.
Trust your gut.
If you want genuine friendship with a coworker, you must be genuine. Like any friendship, it takes vulnerability and honesty. If you feel in a position to open up and expose yourself⎯or you feel you can trust your coworker with the personal details of your life⎯then you are your own best judge. If you sense manipulation for career gains, or even jealousy, take caution: Your "friend" may not have your best interest in mind. As Forbes' Meghan Casserly writes about her female colleague:
“To say we’re not competitive would be a lie. Am I jealous when her traffic numbers dwarf my own or she scores a great magazine feature? No. But does it inspire me to work harder, write faster or pitch more stories? Absolutely. But more importantly I try to be the first person to congratulate her on her successes, whether it’s a workplace win or her recent wedding. Because that’s what friends do.”