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Should HR have close friendships at work?

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HC Online | 13 Nov 2015, 06:35 AM Agree 0
Forming bonds with your workers is important but could deeper relationships end in disaster? HC asked an expert.
  • David | 13 Nov 2015, 11:33 AM Agree 0
    While I acknowledge some of the risks of forming close friendships at work that are identified in this article, but the suggested solution – of not forming them – seems ridiculous. What if the friendship is pre-existing? Should you shun your friend because you're working together.

    It makes much more sense to be conscious of the possible perceptions and simply conduct yourself professionally at work and keep the friendship side outside work. Where there's a real conflict (e.g. you're assessing pay rises for people and your "friends" are in there among others), you should disclose this and have others (senior management or external advisers) either make the decision or review yours for equity. Bending over backwards to avoid the perception of a conflict can be used to conceal a real conflict. Better to keep them right out in the open and address them appropriately.

    HR is no different from any other role that has knowledge and power in an organisation. People of integrity will conduct themselves properly, recognise real and perceived conflicts and ensure they're avoided. Those who lack integrity (Robert Sutton's "Assholes") will exploit their knowledge and power for themselves and their friends. Put your energy into getting rid of these people and keeping them out. Or if your company is full of them, move on.
    • David S. | 13 Nov 2015, 12:47 PM Agree 0
      David I couldn't agree more with your comments and points raised. Let's put the human back in human resources. Absolutely be mindful and conscious to conduct ourselves professionally and set a good example & benchmark of appropriate workplace behaviour but also remember to be genuinely authentic both to yourself and those around you. I personally choose not to utilise and maintain friendships on Facebook with people of the organisation I work with, even if we are friends outside of the workplace. It's not that I have anything to hide, it’s just one of those judgement calls I've chosen to make that I feel comfortable with.
    • Bill | 23 Nov 2015, 04:41 PM Agree 0
      Friends are one thing, but we humans also tend to form even stronger relationships in the workplace. I have been in two organisations where a senior HR person was married to another senior person in the same organisation. In one of those instances I even had to deal with a complaint against the partner. It was never a problem because of the professionalism of the individuals involved. It adds complexity but it can be dealt with. That said, I've personally always tried to maintain a discreet personal distance to avoid that complication.
  • Steve | 13 Nov 2015, 01:23 PM Agree 0
    Whilst I support the thrust of what both Davids are saying, my actual experience as a HR team leader is somewhat different. In at least 2 organisations where I have worked as HR Manager, there were HR professionals in my team who had developed personal, out-of-work friendships with colleagues from different parts of the business. On each of these occasions, issues arose in the workplace such that my team member was not able to do their job properly due to the friendship they had with their colleague. As a result, in each case another HR team member had to be called in to respond - a situation which added complexity and made management more difficult.

    My experience has led me to believe it is better to not form out-of-work friendships with colleagues. When it comes to the workplace, I try to adhere to the adage "I am friendly, but not a friend".
  • Muizz | 16 Nov 2015, 06:18 PM Agree 0
    Responding to your answer above, again i think by simply conduct yourself professionally, you will manage. In the case of friendship, human is still human, so to avoid conflicts, HR manager should remind them regularly on this particular issue and create a line between them. Stand firmly behind your line and they will respect you for that. But stopping them from making friends is totally against humanity. My two cents.
  • Keith | 17 Nov 2015, 03:00 PM Agree 0
    I think there is a balance to be struck with being friendly and engaging with everyone at work however when those relationships become deep there is a danger which as indicated can cause issues - a disciplinary process, a redundancy notification can become complex when strong friendships are involved. This is accentuated with social media and engagement with colleagues through Facebook, Instagram etc an area where I think we will have increasing issues occurring as HR professionals
  • Bernie Althofer | 18 Nov 2015, 01:18 PM Agree 0
    I agree with Steve about being friendly. As a senior manager explained to me (and I tried to follow his advice), "If you their friend you won't make the hard decisions when you have to. By all means be friendly, but don't be their friend."

    Over the years, I have provided advice, support and guidance to individuals who strongly believed that their manager was their friend when a hard decision was made, they felt betrayed. In a few cases, some have sought advice believing they were bullied because whilst they thought they had their manager's back and vice versa, both parties were not following the same rules.

    If a manager decides to let their hair down and enjoy themselves, they do need to be careful given the advent of social media and technology. Postings showing a manager acting in a way that is contrary to the organisational values might not be viewed in a positive light.
  • Tiger | 18 Nov 2015, 01:34 PM Agree 0
    Totally agree with author of this piece. I've always maintained separate lives, one for work, one for my personal life. Friendly yes but mates , No. I don't consider one can be totally objective when there is a close friendship with an employee being disciplined for example. And, believe me, perceptions do matter and credibility and trust are even more important in HR. In one company I went to, I inherited a HR team member who didn't realize not only did no one trust her, but she was regarded as a joke by some senior managers because she was best mates with several employees. That was a necessary but conversation with her.
  • Laura | 23 Nov 2015, 01:44 PM Agree 0
    I agree with this article and Steve, Bernie and Tiger's comments above. This is a topic that I've found often divides HR professionals. I've had new HR team members in the past who I've coached to remain neutral and have discouraged from making office friendships, but in the end it's their personal choice and I've had quite a few debates with HR professionals about the pros and cons of HR office friendships.

    I prefer not to maintain any close friendships at work - as Steve eloquently put it, be friendly but not their friend. And I actively refuse to engage with anyone at work on social media and I ensure my privacy settings are up to date at all times. I don't want someone I'm disciplining or terminating to be able to see what I'm up to with my family on the weekend, but I still want to enjoy all the personal benefits of social media. I find with some practice, it's actually quite easy to maintain separate work and personal lives, and doing so removes and conflicts of interest, sticky situations, hurt feelings and breaches of trust.

    It's a fine line and going too far this way can often lead to becoming the 'fun police', but it's all about moderation and balance. You can still let your hair down at the office Christmas party, for example, but don't get rolling drunk, make a fool of yourself or enter into gossip with employees.

    I think this article was written superbly - it's all about balance.
  • Thomas | 25 Aug 2016, 12:53 PM Agree 0
    On a slightly tangential note, I would challenge that we are a "neutral" party as referenced in this article. We are paid by the employer we work for, to get the best outcome for the organisation. This doesn't mean we can't be fair, reasonable or follow due process but it is disingenuous to represent ourselves as 'neutral' when we in fact represent the organisation we are employed by.
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