Should HR avoid making friends at work?

by Caitlin Nobes02 Dec 2013

For HR professionals, making friends at work can be fraught with complexity, which is why it might be prudent to avoid happy hours after work and play it safe by keeping to yourself. After all, it can be hard to enjoy a drink with a colleague whose performance is under review or who is part of an ongoing HR investigation.

HR training expert Timothy Holden said when HR get too close to some staff they court allegations of discrimination and favouritism. Where harsh decisions – such as lay-offs – have had to be made, he has seen how personal friendships forged between the HR professional and the affected staff have precluded employers from acting fairly.

Clearly it’s harder for HR to discipline staff if they are friends and have personal knowledge of them, but, it can also be difficult for HR professionals to tread the fine line between collegiality and professionalism.

Another issue that can arise is perceived favouritism. If other staff feel they are being treated less favourably than those who are friendly with HR, it can have a negative impact on the work atmosphere. “Teamwork may become more difficult, grievances may be generated and bad behaviour may become the norm,” Holden said. “This could impact on absenteeism, staff turnover rates and customer service.”

Mitigate the risks:

  1. Be consistent and always act with integrity – never reveal confidential company information to your workplace friends, even if you feel that they would benefit from this knowledge
  2. Join professional networks to meet professionals from other organisations so that you can discuss and workshop work-related issues in a confidential environment with professional peers – or post discussion items on the HR Daily forum
  3. Establish ground rules and stick to them – explain to work friends from the outset that circumstances may arise in the future in which you will need to act in the best interests of the company
  4. Be transparent – always disclose potential conflicts of interests to your manager
  5. If you do attend after-work functions, avoid gossip and stay away from the punch bowl
  6. Choose your work friends wisely – at the very least, wait until your potential friends have passed their probation period


  • by Kirsten 7/11/2012 2:15:03 PM

    I don't agree that making friends at work is "fraught with complexity" for HR professionals. The statement that "Clearly it’s harder for HR to discipline staff if they are friends" is irrelevant for HR professionals who work as true business partners. Our role is not to "discipline" staff ourselves, it is to provide advice and guidance to managers on how THEY can effectively approach and manage poor performance in their team members. I have assisted in many disciplinary meetings where, because I was friendly with the employee, it helped the process run smoothly as the employee trusted me and knew I would ensure they were treated fairly.

  • by Debbie 8/11/2012 8:54:57 AM

    I disagree with this too. Our previous HR Manager did not socialise with staff (in or out of hours) and was seen as unapproachable to the point that managers and staff stopped asking her for assistance or support. I am now in this role and due to my friendship with staff they are confident that I will hear them out and use my discretion when necessary without any expectation of favouritism.

  • by Ann 8/11/2012 3:17:38 PM

    I have been in both situations. It depends on the organisatisn and the individuals. I have hired and fired family members and my closest friend is someone i met "on the job" in my first HR role.I have also been accused of an affair and favoritism.
    I wont stop beng friends and socialising with people i work with, but i am definately careful about which events and with which people.
    At the end of the day, it (should) all come down to your own intergrity and abilities to manage within the role you are hired to do

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