Avoid making friends at work?

by HCA29 Jul 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 HC online 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 Russell 29/07/2013 1:32:31 PM

    This is extremely true and I cannot agree more with this statement. Colleagues can also try to take advantage and expect you to divulge confidential information to them or not reprimand them when needed because they see you as their friend rather than the HR Professional. The balance between looking after Company interests and also looking out for the employee to be treated fair and just is not always black and white and having close friendships complicates matters even further. Let's be honest - those Friday after work drinks can be a minefield and I have always tried to rather stay away or just have one quick one and then go home.

  • by kevin 29/07/2013 3:57:56 PM

    Trust is a critical element in working relationships and when people trust their HR people they trust the business.
    Next we will be hiding from our own shadows.

  • by MNK 29/07/2013 7:14:12 PM

    In HR I have learnt then you must decrease the friendship aspect and focus more on the work/professional side of things. Rather seek to have friendships outside of work. Its unlike two colleagues who are friends where one is in marketing and the other is in finance, these two jobs do not directly affect each other as employees. Whereas HR is usually direct to all employees from the different functions. I have heard this before, "how could he say he is my friend when he gives me or allows this low rating, he knows my financial situation and how I needed this bonus". And chances are this particular employees will spend the next couple of months yapping about this 'back stabbing' that they suddenly feel rather than focus on the fact that they have to find ways to fix their performance problem. There are other examples bt i believe its best to minimize the friendships.

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