Career Advice

Workplace Friends: Do’s & Don’ts For Your Career

I talked about the advisability, around Valentine’s Day, of dating co-workers. It’s a short step to talk about forging friendships and personal relationships at work – when it’s appropriate, when it’s a risk, when it’s inevitable. And when to say NO. Yes, there is a NO setting on this dial.

When you’re starting a new job – and the Bureau of Labor Statistics says more of us are doing it these days – you enter not only a workplace, but also a new social environment. There are cliques. There will be the office mother, the father figure, the star, the golden child, the complainer, the manipulator, the mutterer, the expert at avoiding work, and then the rest of the crew – people who keep their heads down and get things done.

In this assortment you’re likely to find some people you are drawn to. Perhaps it’s the concerts you both go to, or hobbies like cooking, beer making or video games. Perhaps it’s a similar approach to solving problems. It may even be simple proximity: we tend to socialize more with people whose cubes or offices are near by.

As you begin to get the lay of the land, you’ll also be presented with opportunities to begin to build acquaintances and, if you’re lucky (or maybe not), friendships.  And don’t forget the well-meaning management types who think constructing social activities is team-building and can foster a vibrant and healthy company culture. Some of these events will feel like mandatory fun. Some may actually be fun. Woot. But as with any social endeavor, there are dos and don’ts. Here are seven of my favorites:

  1. Thirsty Thursday, Beer-o-clock, Happy Hour and their evil cousins: Any office social get together centered on the consumption of alcohol is fraught with peril. Have one drink to be friendly and you’ll probably be fine, but have more than one and you risk not only driving home a bit worse for the wear, but might also be tempted to share personal information. Restrain yourself if you feel you cannot hold your own. Sharing personal details – boyfriend trouble, health, pesky parents, roommate woes – is too often TMI.
  2. Before you reveal personal info, think about how comfortable you’d be seeing those details on Facebook – not your page, but someone else’s. You are in control of information about your life. Be very careful how you share.
  3. Office workers who invite you out for drinks: this is ok as long as moderation is the key. Talk about yourself within your comfort zone. Get to know others – ask polite questions about the other people – not too personal if you just met – and respond appropriately. Your mother told you to avoid religion, politics and sex, it’s your call, really.
  4. You may think you can hold your substances, but as a rule of thumb, plan to have one less of whatever amount you think you can manage. Control = self preservation.
  5. Most of us spend about four years at a job before we move on. Think about whether or not you want to invest in people with whom you may have nothing other in common than place of work.
  6. Say someone invites you to an event – baseball, basketball, a comedy show, whatever. If you’re a guy, it’s probably fine, but if you’re female and the ticketholder is a guy, think twice. Not saying not to just go with what you feel comfortable with.
  7. If you do go out with the girls or guys, keep it professional – no gossip. Keep it clean – no crazy swearing. Keep covered up – leave the tight jeans, plunging necklines and stripper heels for a legitimate date. And for mercy’s sake don’t talk about the boss. Rule of thumb: there is always one weasel in every group.

In short, be professional in any situation that’s linked with work, even if it’s touted as a social event. You already have friends and family. Your work family is in another class of social. Some work friendships do endure, but the percentage is low compared to your “other” friends. Keep guardrails around the social areas of your life as you see fit in the workplace and things will be much easier to manage. Remember – it’s a personal decision so take some time to think it through.