It’s the trend now for companies to create an atmosphere that looks a lot like an extension of college—with perks like napping pods, beer kegs, ping pong tables, and free meals. While these might make for a less boring workday, these perks can also blur the lines between work life and personal life.
Your coworkers become your friends, and your friends are your coworkers, which can get very confusing very quickly. For example, if you’re struggling with something at work, turning to a friend (who also works with you) for support or advice could quickly turn into workplace gossip. This sort of toxic behavior is hard to break out of and can have implications professionally, like weakening relationships with coworkers, difficulty advancing in your job, and more.
On the other hand, there are companies that perpetuate a culture of cutthroat competition where your coworkers are merely obstacles to ascending the corporate ladder. Other companies frown on becoming too friendly with coworkers, preferring a more rigid and formal structure. In settings like these, it can be easy to feel lonely and isolated, not to mention productivity certainly benefits from collaboration and teamwork.
Somewhere in the middle lie companies like Netflix. The streaming service tells its employees, “We model ourselves on being a team, not a family. A family is about unconditional love, despite, say, your siblings’ bad behavior. A dream team is about pushing yourself to be the best teammate you can be, caring intensely about your teammates, and knowing that you may not be on the team forever.”
Even though we can’t all work at places like Netflix, you can employ some simple “dos” and “don’ts” to keep your work relationships from veering into unhealthy territory. Here are some helpful tips for fostering healthy relationships with your colleagues at work.
Be equally friendly to all
It’s important to make an effort to avoid playing favorites and instead focus on being friendly to everyone from the janitor to the CEO. Being indiscriminately friendly sends the message that you don’t play favorites and aren’t interested in participating in office cattiness. It also communicates to others that you are trustworthy and that you care. Simply saying “hello” to those you pass in the hallway or checking in to see how your office manager’s vacation went are easy ways to do this. Showing that you care is a refreshing approach in the corporate world.
Get to know those outside your team
The coworkers with whom you work most closely are probably the people easiest for you to get to know at work. However, there may be times when your work requires you to interact with those outside your team. Make an effort to get to know colleagues who work in other departments or in another capacity, preferably before you find yourself working on a project with them. A great way to accomplish this is to set up an informal lunch with two or three people from another team in order to get to know one another’s skill sets better. Friendliness is contagious—this sort of interaction is sure to be noticed and appreciated by everyone, from the coworkers you are getting to know better to your boss, who is most likely paying attention to your contributions beyond your measurable work.
This is probably one of the most important things you can do to make sure your work relationships stay in a healthy and productive zone. Your boundaries will be unique to you based on your personality and work environment, and they are designed to create a structure for your work relationships. For example, you might have a personal policy that you don’t drink more than one drink at your weekly office happy hour so that your behavior remains professional and so that your happy hour doesn’t turn into a happy late-night event.
Limit your time with coworkers outside of work
While it may be tempting to involve your coworkers in your weekend plans, you may want to consider limiting the amount of time you spend with them outside of work. Not only will it force you to expand your horizons friend-wise, but it will also help you experience a well-deserved break from work. Conversations with coworkers can often be exclusively about work, which can lead to feeling like you’ve never left work. Whether you decide not to see coworkers on the weekend or to simply limit your time with them on the weekends, it is helpful to think about what seems to be the right balance for you.
Engage in office gossip/drama
As harmless as it might seem, participating in office gossip and drama can quickly sour working relationships. Netflix’s policy echoes the old adage, “Don’t say something about someone that you wouldn’t say to their face” by encouraging employees to “only say things about fellow employees you say to their face,” and we could all benefit from adopting this advice. Embracing this policy frees you from the grips of office drama and ensures that you are forming authentic connections with your coworkers.
Undermine others or play favorites
While it may be tempting to focus on your own best interest (after all, you really want that promotion), it’s better to avoid undermining your coworkers and to focus instead on being a team player. Instead of shouting your own praises and downplaying the talents of others, acknowledge your strengths and celebrate what others bring to the table. In the same vein, avoid giving your friends preferred projects and responsibilities. Treating everyone fairly will go a long way towards helping you have positive and long-lasting relationships with your coworkers.
Look for friends exclusively at work
Your workplace can at first seem like a great place to make friends. After all, they are the people you see every day, and they’re easy to get to know. However, your work doesn’t need to be your whole world. It can become limiting and suffocating over time. Plus, having close friends as coworkers can blur the lines between work and personal life (and that means you can say goodbye to any semblance of work-life balance). That’s not to say that you should never have friends at work or that you should never spend time with friends outside of work. It just means, as I explained above, that it’s important to be mindful and intentional about the balance you are striking between work relationships and personal relationships.
Share overly personal details at work
We’ve all had that one coworker who shares every detail about their weekend on Monday morning. You know the names of their cats, their favorite restaurants, their opinions on their second cousin’s life choices, and their sleep habits (talk about TMI!). While that might be an extreme example, sharing overly personal details with your coworkers can create a false sense of connection and can make it challenging to be professional at times. Again, this doesn’t mean you have to avoid disclosing any personal details; it just means that it will probably be helpful to ask yourself, “Would I mind if my boss’s boss knew this about me?” Always err on the side of keeping it professional.