Close friends at work — good or bad?

There should be a limit to how close or emotional professional friendships can get

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Imagine if the workplace were all about ‘work’ alone! Nobody would actually like to go to such a workplace every day. In fact, it is often the friends at the workplace that contribute majorly to making the workplace enjoyable. The thought of meeting our workplace friends brings happiness to us, and happiness at work automatically leads to a high level of engagement.

There are several studies and researches that say that working in a team comprising some close friends, increases the productivity of the overall team. Since the team members know each other well, it is assumed that the output level of such a team will always be high. However, many professionals argue that having very close friends at the workplace is not a very good idea. Let us see why.

“Till the time the friendship  at workplace is about seeking help in terms of upliftment, getting new ideas and leaning together it is okay, otherwise when people get too emotional it leads to disruptions in teams and also impacts performance at work”

Paneesh Rao, chief people officer, Mindtree

Lack of challenge: One reason is that, in a team of friends where everyone knows each other very well and respects each other, nobody will really challenge anybody. That means, that there will be no deliberation amongst the team members, which will result in bad decisions, hampering the overall output of the team.

Wastage of time: Another factor is that, when there are too many close friends at work, they often start spending a lot of time with each other, which leads to wastage of precious work hours and hence, an adverse impact on performance.

HRKatha’s chat with some of the HR leaders in the industry reveals that many think that too much of closeness and emotional attachment with people impacts the performance of the team. “Too much of anything is never good and the same goes for closeness in relationships at the workplace,” believes Rajesh Balaji, CHRO, Matrimony.com

Paneesh Rao, chief people officer, Mindtree, shares that forging friendships at the workplace is not bad. Friends at the office or within teams have each other’s back. In difficult situations, a friend at the office is that one person who will help one cope up, whether it is work-related stress or even personal problems.

“With strong bonding at work, the retention rate is high, peer-to-peer learning is strong and the employees feel that their office is just an extension of their family and college friends”

Sunil Ranjhan, SVP & director – HR, LG Electronics India

“Till the time the friendship  at workplace is about seeking help in terms of upliftment, getting new ideas and leaning together it is okay, otherwise when people get too emotional it leads to disruptions in teams and also impacts performance at work,” asserts Rao

Balaji also encourages having friends at the office, provided there is a clear line between professional friendships developed at work and the friendships developed in our personal life or dating back to school or college. “We never get too open with colleagues at work. We often do not share our personal secrets with them,” says Balaji.

Rao and Balaji also caution that too much of friendship starts affecting performance, productivity and the subculture of the team itself. Experts believe that things take a wrong turn when people start giving or lending favours at the expense of the company. For instance, a manager may start showing bias towards one subordinate, which reflects in the rating and performance reviews. Also, when good friends start taking sides, the harmony amongst the team members is destroyed.

Sometimes, when one good friend becomes a manager or boss, the whole dynamics of the team is altered. This is because, employees often start crossing their boundaries. “Professional friendships should end at the office, and a line should be drawn then and there,” advises Rao. He even believes that when colleagues start meeting each other outside for dinners or vacations, things start getting very personal.

“Too much of anything is never good and the same goes for closeness in relationships at the workplace”

Rajesh Balaji, CHRO, Matrimony.com

Manoj Kumar Sharma, CHRO, Aarti Industries, adds, “Friendships at the workplace are only there to add an element of trust. One may not trust a stranger or somebody one does not know, but friends trust each other, and this trust automatically serves as a catalyst in aligning the teams to the purpose and goals of the company.”

Above all, there is also a bitter truth that true friendships do not really exist at the workplace. There is almost always an underlying sense of competition.

However, Sunil Ranjhan, SVP & director – HR, LG Electronics India, is of the view that today, the majority of the workforce comprises millennials. “While the older generation emphasises on discipline, such things pose a challenge when there are millennials in the workforce. The latter believe in getting measured in terms of numbers and not hours,” points out Ranjhan.

“Friendships at the workplace are only there to add an element of trust because friends trust each other, and this trust helps in aligning the teams to the purpose and goals of the firm”

Manoj Kumar Sharma, CHRO, Aarti Industries

He shares that he has never seen good friends or close subordinates not delivering as a team at the workplace. In fact, he encourages a culture where employees are open to meeting up outside of work, going for dinners and spending time with each other. Stating the multiple benefits that accrue, Ranjhan says, “With strong bonding at work, the retention rate is high, peer-to-peer learning is strong and the employees feel that their office is just an extension of their family and college friends.” However, he does caution that such friendships should not lead to unethical behaviour, such as frauds and lending of favours at the company’s cost.

We cannot change the fact that we human beings are social animals. It is inevitable for us to not build bonds, whether in our personal life or professional. However, how far we should go and where to draw a line is something we need to be aware of.

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