Monday, May 21, 2018

This is the Problem With Workplace Friendships

I'm sure you've experienced this in your career: There are people you become friends with on the job, and feel so grateful to have found such relationships. Then, there are the people you work with who you wish would get a job on Mars.

Having friends at work can be a blast. The days go faster, are more fun and it seems so reassuring to know that someone always has your back. Many organizations even encourage people to become friends at work and ask employees to recruit their friends to join the team.

But new research finds that too much friendship at work can lead to "destruction," explains Nancy Rothbard, a Wharton management professor.

"It can lead to needing to engage with other people in a way that can be emotionally taxing to you, if it’s too deep. Sometimes you get caught up in some of the dynamics and it can be really distracting," she says.

Often, we have to make tough decisions at work, such as who is going to included in a project, how resources are allocated or even who gets a new desk chair and who does not. When you're emotionally close to someone -- as you are in a friendship -- it may influence your decisions simply because you don't want to tick off your friend.

So, while it may be fun to work with "friends," there can be an organizational downside when those relationships affect the way business decisions are made.

Further, workplace relationships can be affected by social media. The researchers explain that Facebook or Instagram can give you more insight into a person's personal life, such as when they post vacation photos. When you're back at the office working hard and your friend/colleague is drinking a mai tai on a beach somewhere, you may be a bit resentful -- especially when you really needed that colleague and she wasn't available. Or, you feel left out when a group of colleagues post photos of a fun after-work activity -- and you weren't included. It can be high-school cliques all over again.

Still, social media can help provide insight into a colleague -- and improve your relationship because you have a greater understanding of him or her, researchers say.

The biggest thing that surprised the researchers is how little data is being collected on workplace friendships, and the affect they have on employees. Since we spend so much time at work, and our organizations encourage close working relationships with colleagues, it's important to take a step back and think about how to better manage such friendships to ensure they're positive for employees and the business.

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