Can You Be BFFs with Your Work Colleague?
Forming close relationships with co-workers may make the day more fun – but can it be detrimental to your career?
Afriend of a friend told me recently about an office friendship that went horribly wrong. It ended with her and her work wife not speaking and sending ripples of awkwardness throughout the office – all because one had relayed gossip about their manager to their superiors and word got around. This, in turn, led to tension not just between the former friends but between the manager and the betrayed ‘gossipee’ as well. Work became considerably less fun after that.
Business and pleasure
We spend most of our adult waking life at our job. This can be a depressing thought, made bearable by having people at the office who you look forward to seeing. Relationships will inevitably form. ‘One of the most powerful human needs is to feel valuable and valued,’ says organisational psychologist Leigh Johnstone. ‘To feel significant or valuable, we are driven by a need to bond. When we cannot bond with others, we feel disconnected, which can result in high levels of stress.’
Not only can a work bestie ensure that your stress is limited to the job at hand, they can also be a confidant with whom you share problems and celebrate victories. From a strategic point, building strong relationships with colleagues can help you get ahead in your career. It can be a win-win. But, since we’re human, things are bound to become tense or uncomfortable at some point and, if not handled with professionalism, take a turn for the worse. Here’s how to handle seven workplace situations that can strain relationships like a grown-ass woman, so your environment remains harmonious.
1 You ind out you and your work wife are going for the same promotion
‘Speak to her,’ says HR director Brandon Gillham. ‘Be open about your interest in the opportunity – but make a pact that whoever gets the promotion will foot the bill for a shared experience for you both to enjoy. If you get the promotion, you’ll get the satisfaction of the experience, the increase and the status – and you’ll be able to remind your bestie she still matters. If she gets the promotion, it might sting – but you’ll have retained a strategically placed ally at the company, who will be rooting for you.’ Genius!
2 Your work bestie betrayed your trust by telling your boss you had a rant about them
‘ The only way to deal with this is to speak directly to your colleague and ask for her side of the story,’ says Gillham. ‘Book a private meeting room (public attacks and hair-pulling won’t resolve anything), and tell her how she’s hurt you. Be specific about your expectations for rebuilding trust. You may have to do damage control with your manager, too – so be honest, admit you made a mistake, accept responsibility and move on. Most managers will see it as a strength if you’re able to admit mistakes and learn from them, so there’s a potential upside here.’
3 Your favourite colleague tells you she got a raise – but you didn’t
‘Your initial reaction could be “unfair!”, but think of the bigger picture,’ says Gillham. ‘Congratulate her – then find a place where nobody can hear you scream. Once you’ve calmed down, think things through. If you’re not getting an increase, ask yourself what you need to do more or less of to put yourself in line for one.
‘You have a powerful tool to push your brand and influence decision-makers within the organisation – but if you manage it poorly, you could be committing career suicide’
If you listened to your colleague as she was gushing, you may have picked up clues about what to incorporate into your career strategy. Be smart: use the successful tactics of others to maximise your opportunities.’ Word.
4 Your boss started following you on Insta
Someone with power and status has identified you as interesting, value-adding or inspiring. Celebrate! But there is a downside: ‘You’ll have to exercise more restraint about the topics you post or comment on,’ warns Gillham. ‘Drunken rants and post-clubbing pictures will have to stop. If your boss has access to this information, assume that everybody around the boardroom table does too. You have a powerful tool to push your brand and influence decision-makers within the organisation – but if you manage it poorly, you could be committing career suicide.’
5 Your work wife isn’t pulling her weight. Should you confront her – or tell the boss?
‘ Always discuss concerns with her first,’ says Gillham. ‘ There may be a personal issue that’s contributing to her poor performance. Having a convo will achieve two things: first, she’ll know you’re aware that she’s slacking off; second, you’ll be doing what besties do for each other – asking, engaging and being supportive. If your manager asks you directly for an opinion, don’t be drawn in. Encourage them to approach your friend directly. If you confide in the boss, you’ll be labelled an untrustworthy back-stabber, and that rep will see you going nowhere fast.’
6 You’re in charge of after-work drinks. Should you include the boss?
‘Definitely,’ says Gillham. ‘Give them an opportunity to decline, rather than leaving them wondering why they didn’t get an invite. This allows you to connect socially, which is likely to strengthen the relationship. Just remember not to be the one carried to your Uber after three too many shooters. If you want to cut loose and don’t want authority figures around, make arrangements outside of office hours.’
7 You have a major crush on someone at work. Is it okay to date them?
‘When you spend so much time with someone, you may develop feelings for them,’ says Gillham. ‘But dating at work can lead to messy break-ups that get noticed by decision-makers in the business. You want them to pay attention to the great job you’re doing, not your inability to separate work and play.’ If you’re looking for love, there’s an app for that!