Eighty-two percent of people feel they have friends at work, but only 15 percent see those friendships as “real,” says research conducted by Olivet Nazarene University. The survey of 3000 people across 21 industries sheds some light on how people perceive their coworkers. You can see more results here, but here are a few highlights:
- 71% don’t consider any coworkers “best friends”
- 22% of people consider their coworkers “strangers”
- People are more likely to discuss conflicts with coworkers than personal issues, such as their life, health or financial issues
- Size of company doesn’t have tremendous impact on the number friends a person claims (less than 10 = 3, 500+ = 6)
What does that all mean? And does it matter? It highly depends on the workplace.
Research has shown that close friendships at work can improve everything from happiness to productivity. Social time can actually help you have a better day.
On the contrary, friendships in the workplace can pose serious problems. Among friends, professional and personal boundaries can become blurred. Friends can distract one another with gossip and chit chat. If the relationship goes South, a whole new set of problems can arise.
As a new leader, you are in an especially precarious position. You are suddenly leading your peers, who could very well have been close friends of yours before your promotion. If you aren’t careful, other employees may view your friendship with their coworker as unfair. They may accuse you of favoritism, even if you aren’t doing anything wrong.
So what can you do reap the benefits of friendships at work, and avoid the problems? Start here.
Set some expectations
You should foster a culture where people feel comfortable socializing and getting to know one other beyond the duties of the job. It creates a happier work place, and employees are likely to be more productive, higher performers and stay on longer when they are happy at work. That said, everything should be done in moderation. Encourage the social aspects of work, but step in if people are abusing it, such as taking too-long lunches or spending loads of time chatting in the break room.
Ensure that you aren’t the one taking long lunches or breaks with employees who are also friends. It sends a bad message to the rest of your employees.
Ban office gossip
Friendships often form over juicy rumors. Establish a no-gossip policy. When you hear it, put an end to it, and most important, don’t engage in it yourself. Gossip almost never (I am hard-pressed to find one example, but I won’t rule it out entirely) serves a purpose. It wastes time, causes conflict, and at it’s worst, can ruin reputations.
Promote collaboration with new people
When you delegate work on a project, assign two or more people who aren’t super tight to work together. The different perspectives will prevent the type of group-think that can stunt creativity and stall progress. Plus, teammates will get to know one another and work together more effectively.
Make sure that you aren’t always relying on your friends for feedback and ideas, as well. Solicit feedback from everyone.
Treat people equally
As a leader, this one is critical. I’m not talking about treating people the same here. You will have different relationships with employees, and that’s OK. Some employees’ performance and behavior will earn them bigger pay increases and special perks. Some employees ideas will be better. You will need to coach and train people differently. You will need to tweak how you motivate and recognize each employee. How you provide feedback will change from one employee to another. You won’t be able to treat everyone the same.
However, you can offer everyone the same opportunities. The same opportunity to receive plum assignments, to apply for promotions, to share feedback and present ideas, and to receive mentoring and coaching from you. You simply can’t give your friends, or the people you like, advantages over others.
I want to hear from you: How did you manage the transition from friend to leader? Answer in the comments section.