Is It OK To Build Personal Relationships At Work?

work relationship

Career Kuel Thought Leader: Gayle Petrillo

I’ve written for Kuel Life for about three years now. Jack, my boss, recently visited.

“During her stay, we shared professional and personal experiences.”

We had never met in person, and so it was with some trepidation that I invited her to stay with my husband and me. We figured, worst-case scenario, she would move to a hotel room if things didn’t go well. 

During her four days and nights here, I introduced her to my local family, colleagues, and friends for meet and greets for breakfasts, lunches and cocktails. Since she had never been to the desert, together she and I visited popular landmarks so Jack could experience our fauna and flora. During her stay, we shared professional and personal experiences. Our relationship deepened and we have become friends. 

This got me thinking. 

Close Relationships:

Long ago I recall being mentored by great bosses and colleagues alike. They were kind and willing to share not only how they succeeded, but how I could as well.

One thing has changed over those years. It had been frowned upon when colleagues got too close. The thinking was that friendships in the work environment would cause friction. Onlookers would see favoritism; there would be jealousy, and these emotions would negatively impact the work. These close relationships were discouraged whether between males and females or among female workers alone. 

Male bonding, however, was a different story. Men who were seen together over lunch, sometimes with a martini or two, or at a bar after hours, was male bonding and considered supportive behavior. I vividly remember being invited to lunch with a mix of female and male colleagues and when I ordered an Arnold Palmer, I was told, “we don’t order alcohol at lunch”, and the look of surprise when the waiter explained what my drink consisted of – tea and lemonade.

“It’s important to remember your boss is just that, your boss.”

Ideas Have Changed:

Fortunately, even the two-martini lunch, and other ideas have changed. It is now considered smart, even crucial and encouraged for colleagues to like each other and form friendships.  By building friendly relationships, team members work more in tune with one another. Additionally, because work can be monotonous at times, having a colleague friend, someone who understands the good, bad and ugly parts of your workday, makes it easier to complete tasks and get the job done.

This is the good news.

There are cautionary tales, however. Sharing too much information within your work environment can be troublesome. It’s important to remember your boss is just that, your boss. Never assume your boss would or should ‘cover’ for you, especially given personal circumstances you may have shared in an away-from-work moment.

What Happens When A Work Relationship Sours?

You are still accountable for staying on track, meeting deadlines, etc. and it is your boss who has the responsibility for keeping you focused. It is his or her job to do so and could lose their job if they let you slack. 

And what happens when a work relationship sours? It can negatively impact the team. Work is work and therefore, it is imperative that it takes precedence. That may mean having difficult conversations to ‘keep the peace’.

Social media can play a part when work and socializing intersect. Many people believe what they read and comments can be misinterpreted when implied by a third party. 

“Be careful what you post for the public to see.”

My advice regarding building relationships at work is to test the waters carefully. Dip your toe in first. Start with casual conversations about mundane things. Always avoid politics, religion, sex, as well as other subjects that can be construed as divisive. As both parties gain trust in each other, the relationship will grow. Only then invite this person to friend you on social media platforms. 

Be Careful What You Post:

The exception to this would be LinkedIn because this platform is most generally used for business connections. It is not a site for sharing your after-work shenanigans.

One more comment to chew on would be to remember that prospective employers and employees alike frequently check Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube and may opt-out of working with or for you based on what they see online. Fair? Maybe not; however, that is the harsh reality of having online accounts. Be careful what you post for the public to see.

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About the Author:

Gayle Petrillo is President of First Impressions, Image Consulting. Gayle is an image consultant working with both businesses and individuals. Her services include: customer service training; team building skills; secret shopper services; gossip avoidance techniques; closet analysis; wardrobe transformations, personal shopping; employment coaching; and presentation skills.