We spend so much time at work, and sometimes in almost constant interaction, that it is inevitable that people will form friendships at work. This can be both a benefit and a liability for a company and the employees themselves. While everyone wants to be seen and heard at work, some after hours activities are not suitable to bring back to work or discuss at work.
While employees are more comfortable and likely to stay longer when they get along with their coworkers it is important to keep work and social life separate in some ways.
It seems that things are more blurred then they used to be. Separation of work and home life is becoming smaller and the overlap is growing. Employees are often finding their friends at work, and investing so much of their time at work that they are becoming strong relationships both at work and outside of work.
While some employers have policies limiting dating in the workplace, or setting out procedures to follow that help keep romantic relationships from interfering in the work place, but friendships are much harder to manage.
They are generally not exclusive intentionally of other workers, but letting some people at work know more about your personal life leaves the door open for embarrassment and an uncomfortable work place.
Employers can improve these dynamics by creating a culture and tone in the workplace that allows for general conversation and relationship building while keeping topics more on the professional track.
If this culture and expectation is applied evenly in every work situation as well as all work events, including retreats, conferences, and overtime, the employees will naturally maintain the boundaries necessary.
By keeping policies about discussing wages, alcohol intake, illegal activities, and concerns with other employees, in place and creating a human resource system to allow them space to discuss and report those things appropriately, you can keep them out of general conversation. People need an outlet to share feelings and success, failures and struggles, so allowing a safe space, perhaps even offering counselling or therapy through a benefits program an create that outlet without it affecting moral or distracting from the work tasks.
Having a welcoming space where employees can have short breaks and refocus will allow them to socialize in appropriate ways and keep a team building attitude, helping to build strong working relationships and help build loyalty.
As businesses are finding more social needs being met at work, we need to change and adjust to hep keep employees happy, healthy, and productive in the work place.
By allowing friendships to grow without excluding others, and keeping an environment where employees feel they can be honest and supportive of each other, rather then competitive and silent, both employees and employers will see benefits.