TA L E N T D I A R I E S Workplace friendships: It’s complicated IT IS BEST TO EXERCISE CAUTION WHEN IT COMES TO MAKING ‘FRIENDS’ AT WORK, SAYS MARK DIXON

There’s no doubt about it  – if you have good friends at work, you’re more likely to enjoy your day at the office. Someone to sit with at lunch, discuss the gossip, empathize over difficult customers – these things oil the wheels of the working day. 
 Or do they? Whereas some management experts think friendships and socialization at the workplace boost productivity and staff retention, others think they can create problems for both individuals and businesses. 

 DO FRIENDSHIPS CREATE CONFLICT? 
So are workplace friendships a good thing? Well, it’s not quite so simple. Other researchers point to their possible illeffects: people being distracted from work due to socializing; breaches of confidentiality; blurring of boundaries between friendship and work roles; favouritism; clash of roles (eg: managers finding it difficult to enforce procedures with their friends); bullying or poor performance being overlooked or condoned and cliques forming. But actually, many of those ‘dangers’ are more a result of poor management cultures than friendships per se. 
 TRY THE COMMON-SENSE APPROACH 
Whether or not you think work friendships are good for business, they’re going to happen anyway. In India, 78 per cent of workers meet with colleagues outside of work (higher than the global average of 64 per cent), and 88 per cent have close friendships with colleagues (again, higher than the global average of 71 per cent).  So rather than debate the theoretical pros and cons of workplace friendship, it is better to make sure it helps, not hinders workplace performance in practice. Business owners and managers have a part to play here: Use team-building activities to extend the interaction in your workplace. Team-building can increase the number of people who talk to each other, and prevent cliques and exclusion; 
Reward people according to performance and output, not time spent at the desk. That might deter them from chatting with their mates for hours each afternoon;
Beware of strong friendships (or office romances) developing between direct reports and line managers. Support managers in resisting the pressure to give preferential treatment to their friends. It may be worthwhile reconfiguring teams to avoid this situation; 
Relook at the functioning’s. People who do their jobs at locations like business centres and lounges get all the buzz of a professional workplace without having to be in the same place as their colleagues. Letting them work at different locations can take them out of a rut in terms of their working methods and habits. 
ONE WORD OF WARNING: If your new self-avowed ‘Best Friend Forever’ at a business centre turns out to work for your main competitor, be careful about what you say about work or just find someone else to have coffee with, in that case. 

 

Source: Ascent

Date: 11th September 2013

 

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