Although it may be fun to become friendly with your co-workers, it's still important to make sure there are certain boundaries in place. After all, you may vent to your best friend about your latest date, but does your supervisor really need every last detail when she asks you what you did over the weekend? Of course, the same goes for colleagues on your same level: Do you readily disclose details about your life, or are you more discerning and make it a case-by-case basis? If you’re one of those people who tells everyone everything, don’t worry — setting boundaries with friends at work is not difficult, and it’s also not too late to instill them.
“One of the best parts about jobs can be the opportunity to form long-lasting friendships,” Teague Simoncic, career coach with Ama La Vida, tells Bustle. “It’s a natural occurrence — you’re around other people who are passionate about the same things you are and spending a ton of time together.” However, Simoncic also suggests proceeding with caution. “Because these friendships are intertwined with your professional life, it’s important to exercise appropriate boundaries to make sure you’re representing yourself in your best light while at work.”
That said, if you’re looking for some ideas about boundaries you need with workplace friends, experts weigh in below.
Focus On Work First, Friendship Second
Sometimes, lines between work goals and work-friendship goals can become blurred, but there’s an easy solution. “If you are truly focused on your career, then the boundary has to be that the relationship at its core is about the work first,” John Crossman, CEO of Crossman & Company, tells Bustle. “You share goals at work, and must be committed to them and keep each other accountable.”
Don’t Overshare Things You Don't Want Other Co-Workers To Know About
Even if you and your co-worker are super close, it's important to remember that gossip can easily be spread at the office. “Be sure to not overshare personal things that you wouldn’t want other co-workers to know about,” Nicole Sbordone, LCSW and author of Surviving Female Friendships: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, tells Bustle. “For instance, this includes details about your sex life or how much you’re making. People talk and gossip, especially at work, so be sure not to share information you wouldn’t want your boss (or anyone else, for that matter) to know.”
Caleb Backe, health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics, agrees. “When it comes to personal topics such as your love/sex life, keep it inside, or speak about it outside,” he tells Bustle. “You probably wouldn’t want someone else to hear you, anyway, so it is best to avoid it at work if you can.”
Practice Neutrality If You’re In A Leadership Position
If you supervise others at work, do you talk to certain employees more than others? Michelle Gomez, business professional, author, and success coach advises against it. “If you’re in a leadership role, avoid spending too much one-on-one time with one employee over the others, since it could lead others to feel ‘set aside,’" she tells Bustle. “Be neutral, and allow time and space for individual relationships with each person.”
Avoid Forming Cliques
Similar to maintaining neutrality if you’re in a leadership position at work is avoiding the temptation to form cliques. “It’s natural that you’ll form close relationships with some, but not all, of your colleagues,” Simoncic says. “However, be careful that your friendships don’t affect your workplace behavior, and that you aren’t excluding your colleagues who aren’t also your BFFs.” She adds that one way to avoid this is by inviting more people to grab coffee mid-day versus your usual one or few. And, if you’re working on a big project, Simoncic says to stay objective and consider everyone’s input, not just ones from your favorite colleagues.
Andrew Rawson, chief learning officer at Traliant, a compliance training company, adds another angle to the clique topic. “One important boundary you need with workplace friends is inviting all employees if socializing outside of work,” he tells Bustle. “For instance, a supervisor could use socialization outside of work as a way to strengthen team dynamics. However, if not all of the team members are invited, then it can come across as favoritism.”
Avoid Overlapping Too Much Of Your Personal And Professional Free Time
Some offices are more social than others, and it seems as though there’s a new post-work activity every other night. However, do you have to attend them all? “Avoid overlapping too much of your personal/professional time,” Gomez says. “Occasional lunches together, and maybe a Friday night happy hour visit here and there, are OK, as well as big events like weddings. But do not overdo it with too many out-of-office functions, as it will skew the working relationship.”
Be Cautious About Physical Contact With Co-workers
You may naturally be a touchy-feely type of person, but in a work environment, it may not be the best idea. “Pay attention to the handshake which becomes a ‘hug hello’ to the ‘hand-on-the-shoulder’ or ‘heads together’ moments while looking at a screen, etc.,” Backe says. “Don’t overstep your boundaries (or human resources’), since there could be significant ramifications.”
Beyond physical contact with co-workers, Mathison cautions about workplace friendships that turn romantic. “Romance between people at different levels of an organization, particularly between a boss and a direct report, raise cultural and legal concerns for employers, as well as employees,” he says. “Therefore, it is important to know and follow your employer’s policy. It is also a good idea for employees to inform the employer of any unwelcome conduct they may experience at work.”
Take Top-Secret Conversations Out Of The Office
You may be closer to some co-workers more than others, but if you need to confide in them about a highly sensitive topic — like you possibly leaving your job — do so outside of the office. “If there is one co-worker in particular that you have an extremely trusted professional or personal relationship with, and you are looking to get another perspective from someone intimately familiar with your situation, that could be helpful,” Colleen Star Koch, career coach and founder of Rowan Coaching, tells Bustle. “Then, enter into the conversation with an open mind, ready to listen, and consider advice from different angles.” She says that by having this talk outside of the office, you’ll avoid a co-worker hearing you, potentially being the center of gossip, and/or having your boss unexpectedly learn about the issue at hand.
Minimize Your Alcohol Consumption
Although your office may have weekly happy hours or holiday parties, it’s best not to drink too much in the company of your co-workers, Simoncic says. Only you know your alcohol tolerance and how it affects you — how much alcohol you consume in a certain quantity of time — but if in doubt, skip alcohol altogether.
“Avoid drinking excessive amounts of alcohol,” Simoncic says. “I'm not opposed to colleagues having one or two drinks together at a happy hour or work event if the setting is appropriate. However, when you’re putting yourself in danger of acting in ways you’d be embarrassed about the next day, it’s time to switch to water or anything non-alcoholic.” She also says to keep in mind that even outside the boundaries of your workplace, you’re still representing yourself as a professional in your field.
All in all, having friendship workplace boundaries in place is an essential part of having a comfortable work environment. Yes, the boundary “rules” may feel intimidating, but they should not hinder you from having friends at your job. “Don't be afraid to make friendships in the workplace — it’s important to make long-lasting connections,” Simoncic says. “Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours at work, so it’s vital for us to find sources of happiness and fun within our colleagues.”