Is It a Bad Idea to Make Friends at Work?

We spend a lot of time at work. When you have a full-time job, you’re usually there for at least eight hours. Your co-workers can end up feeling like your only confidants when you’re working. But, it’s not always a good idea to become close friends with the people in the workplace.

You might have some things in common with your co-workers, and there’s no reason not to talk with them during your coffee break. But, there is usually a difference between real, genuine friends and the friends that you make at work. In fact, if you become too close to your co-workers, it can sometimes lead to significant problems.

Is making friends at work an asset or a liability? Some people can make it work. After all, you end up spending a good part of your day with them. Unfortunately, it’s that same idea that can end up making a friendship turn sour. If you end up falling out with someone, it can create a negative working environment for everyone.

Getting together with your co-workers for a few minutes at a time isn’t a problem. It’s normal to want to have people to talk with throughout the day. But, letting them into your personal life isn’t always a good idea.

Why You Shouldn’t Have Friends at Work

This guide will explore the reasons why it’s a bad idea to make friends at work. It might feel like a controversial subject since you probably spend a lot of time during the day with these people. But, there is a difference between being friendly and social, and letting your co-workers in on every detail of your life.

Think about your closest friends and the things you tell them. Would you want your co-workers to know the same information? Many times, we let our co-workers be our friends out of convenience, but it can lead to problems at work. If you’re still not convinced that it’s a bad idea, let’s dive into a few reasons why you should be cautious about at-work friendships.

They Talk About Your Personal Life with Others

When you share something personal, or maybe even embarrassing with someone, you should have confidence that they’ll keep it to themselves. Telling your co-workers all about your ‘dirty laundry’ can put you at risk for keeping things private. We live in a world where social media reigns supreme. If your co-workers decide to share your secret stories all over Facebook or Twitter, it could lead to a lot of embarrassment.

It doesn’t have to be that extreme to cause problems. Perhaps you consider yourself close to a few people you work with and tell them something personal. Before you know it, that personal information has circulated around the office. For some reason, a workplace can quickly turn into a free-for-all when it comes to gossip. If you don’t want your co-workers meddling in your personal affairs or talking about them with other people, it’s best not to dive too deep into a friendship.

They May Be Different Outside of Work

A workplace environment isn’t exactly the best place to get to know someone’s true personality. Usually, people are putting their best foot forward in a professional setting. You might get along with someone really well, but there’s a good chance they aren’t fully able to be themselves at work. Think about it this way – are you the same at your place of employment as you are with your other friends and family?

The person that works in the cubicle next to yours might be friendly and fun to talk to throughout the day. But, maybe on the weekends, he goes to bars and clubs you wouldn’t spend your time in. You might have different ideas of fun outside of the office atmosphere.

Additionally, you might want to spend time with someone outside of work only to find that they don’t like the same activities as you. So, you’re the one who ends up getting rejected. Either situation can either hurt or cause embarrassment. If either person gets their feelings hurt or decides they don’t like the other’s activities, it can make your time working together awkward and embarrassing.

Your Conversations Are About Work

Unless you love every aspect of your job, there’s a good chance you don’t want it to be the topic of every conversation. Unfortunately, having friends from work can make your career your only talking point. You might think you have a lot in common with the people you work with. But, sometimes the only thing you have in common is the job itself.

You might be able to talk about the job for a while, including your likes and dislikes. But, when it becomes the center of every conversation, it can get tiring. It’s a clear sign that you and your co-workers probably don’t have as much in common as you might have thought. Talking about work when you’re outside of the office can get tiring quickly.

Cliques Form Too Easily

Remember in high school when it seemed like everyone had their specific group of friends to hang out with? Sometimes it worked, other times it made people feel excluded. Unfortunately, a workplace environment is often no different. Cliques are common in office environments. If you’re new to the building or don’t fit in with a certain clique, it can create some awkward tension.

If you’re in a ‘competing clique,’ it can also create tension and may reflect poorly on your work performance. Your time in the office shouldn’t be focused on friendships, including friendships to avoid. Businesses, where everyone can work together in an open environment, are healthier and more productive for everyone involved.

You’re in Competition with Them

You might think you have a few close friends at the office. But, what if you and your best friend were up for the same promotion? Or, what if you were buddies with your boss, but when they had to discipline one of your actions at work it created problems? Mixing friendships in the workplace is dangerous for this reason. When it comes down to it, most people are still going to be looking out for themselves at the end of the day.

If it sounds harsh, that’s because it is. It’s easy to assume your ‘friends’ wouldn’t do that. But it’s unlikely anyone would turn down a big raise or compromise their leadership because you’ve gone out for a few drinks after work before.

Because of this, getting too attached to the people you work with can be dangerous. They can let you down easily and walk all over you if it benefits them. But, they could also be holding you back from getting what you want out of your job. You shouldn’t feel obligated to give up a promotion or work harder because your work friend wants the same thing.

You Can Compare Yourself to Others

Not only are you in competition with your co-workers, but you may end up comparing yourself to one another. If you were to find out someone’s salary at work, you could feel slighted that you don’t make as much. Or, they may resent you for what you make if their own salary isn’t on par. This can be especially awkward if you both do the same job or hold a similar position. It’s nearly impossible not to compare yourself to others once you know what they’re making.

You might also compare the types of offices you have, benefits, etc. Again, a conversation between co-workers will often turn to work-related topics. Eventually, their own work experiences will be a topic of conversation. If they don’t add up to yours, the imbalance can create problems. This isn’t necessarily anyone’s fault. But, it can create a rift in relationships and an awkward work environment.

What's the difference between coworkers and friends?

Resentment from Others

Let’s say you do have a good friend who works with you. Maybe you’re even close to someone in a position of power. But, if that person sticks up for you or acts differently around you than they do others, your other co-workers could start to feel angry. They may even resent you. It’s easy to feel like someone is getting special treatment in an office. If anyone feels that way about your relationship with a co-worker or manager, it could lead to a lot of problems.

Dealing with Different ‘Types’ of People

When you make friends with the people you work with, you’ll quickly start to notice differences in their personalities. Everyone tends to play a role in the workplace, whether they realize it or not. Unfortunately, these roles can negatively impact you.

For example, one of your friends at work could be a bad influence. They might encourage you to go out to a bar after work and have a drink. Then, they might encourage you to keep drinking, or make other bad choices, etc. Of course, you can always say no, but the influence is still there, and you may eventually give in.

Another work friend could be a ‘downer,’ and may always need your moral support in to get through the day. Because you’re friends, they’ll count on you to make things easier for them. It won’t take long for that to become utterly exhausting. It will also take away from your work, and your performance may suffer.

Finally, you could find a friend at work that ends up being kind of a ‘flake.’ These are people who seem great up front, but just aren’t reliable when you might need them.

Personalities don’t have to be this extreme for them to cause problems. You’ll learn what people are like in the office quickly, and that can make it easier to know who to stay away from.

How to Avoid Being Friends with Co-Workers

Now that you know some of the risks of being friends with the people you work with, you might be wondering how to avoid it. After all, we need human/social interaction.

It’s normal to talk to people at work, and you can even have fun doing it. There are bound to be co-workers you get along with more than others. But, the reasons stated above should make it an easy choice not to get overly-close with anyone, especially outside the office.

So, how can you avoid being close friends with the people you work with and still be kind and not come across as rude? Let’s look at a few suggestions. The key is to set boundaries for yourself with the people you work with:

  • Keep a schedule: If you structure your time the right way, you can usually avoid a lot of at-work drama. After all, you’re there to get a job done, not necessarily to make friends. Keep yourself as busy as possible throughout the day, and it will be less likely for people you work with to interfere with your personal life.
  • Just say no: If you consistently choose not to hang out with your co-workers outside of work, they might start asking why. It’s important to stand firm in your response. Tell them your time outside of work is full, and you use it to be with your family or other friends. This can be a direct, and even ‘harsh’ approach, but sometimes It’s necessary if co-workers are relentless.
  • Set work time limits: It’s important to set boundaries for yourself. If you’re off the clock, you’re off the clock in every way. Make a conscious choice not to answer work emails or phone calls from the office when you’re at home unless it’s an emergency. The more you get into the mindset that time at home doesn’t involve work, the easier it will be to separate your co-workers from friends.

coworker keeps asking me to hang out

Are There Benefits to Making Friends at Work?

Because we’re at work so much, it’s nearly impossible to avoid all social interaction. You don’t have to ignore everyone at the office and being social isn’t a bad thing. It’s when that social aspect is taken too far that problems can occur.

More often than not, work friends aren’t your real friends. But there are some cases in which people have made these relationships work. There are a few positives to consider if you look at them carefully.

Some of the benefits of having friends at work include:

  • The environment of your workplace is something you don’t ‘dread,’ since you have someone there to make you feel more comfortable. You may also feel more appreciated at work if you have a friend there.
  • You can feel more comfortable being yourself, which in turn can lead to more productivity. Often, having friends in the workplace can be distracting and reduce the amount of work you get done. But, it can also be beneficial if the friendship is healthy and encouraging.
  • Having a friend in the workplace makes it easier not to let little problems build up and frustrate you. You have someone right there who will listen to your frustrations before they become significant problems. This can help to create a more pleasant atmosphere and calmer environment.

Be Cautious When Becoming Friends with a Co-Worker

If you do want to be friends with your co-workers, or at least be a part of a friendlier work environment, there are things to keep in mind. Mostly, you should use caution when it comes to which subjects you’re willing to talk about.

Try not to give out too much information on the following topics:

  • How much money you (or your spouse) make, or your financial history
  • Health-related issues
  • Your job reviews
  • Sexual history or romantic relationships

There is no hard-and-fast rule when it comes to certain subjects you should avoid. But, it’s important to try to avoid anything that could potentially cause problems at work.

Think about why you’re eager to share a particular topic. Is it because that co-worker is a true friend, or you’re just dying to tell someone, and they happen to be there? If you can’t consider them a dependable, trustworthy friend, it’s best to hold off on talking about personal details of your life.

Avoiding Friendships in the Workplace

As you can see, there are some serious risks when developing friendships with the people you work with. It doesn’t always lead to disaster. But, it’s important to be cautious. You should try to draw a line between your workplace friends and your real friends. In some cases, these relationships can work out. But, there are precautions to keep in mind.

Set boundaries with the people you work with and remind yourself that you’re there to do a good job. If you want to move ahead in your career, it’s best to avoid the drama that can often come with workplace friendships. The less you get involved with your co-workers, and the less they know about your personal life, the better.

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