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Friendships in the workplace

Planning a lunch catch up with two good friends this week it occurred to me that, as with many of my close friendships, our relationship began when we worked together.  Despite all moving on to pastures new, our bond has endured and we get together often.

This got me thinking about managing friendships in the workplace and how important it is for HR to keep an awareness of the 'friendship dynamic'.

Organisations will understandably want to ensure that all employees behave in a professional manner whilst at work and that confidentiality is maintained, but how far should they go?

Requiring all employees to declare that they are friends outside of work is likely to be considered over-zealous and is unlikely to contribute to a positive work culture, however this may be necessary if there is a close friendship, or indeed a romantic relationship, between a manager and a member of their team.

In reality it is unrealistic to think that work is not a topic amongst friends and if something is happening in the workplace, you can be pretty sure that the team is talking about it behind closed doors, especially if the colleagues also live with each other.

In some circumstances it may be worth considering consulting both of the employees to seek to reach a satisfactory agreement regarding the transfer of one or both of them to another department or team.

That said, in the general running of things, I would advise that businesses accept that friendships will be formed and this can be very positive by encouraging effective teamwork and raising morale.  It is, of course, reasonable that an organisation will have an expectation that employees should not allow a close personal friendship to influence their conduct at work and employee’s should be mindful that if they breach their employer’s trust by disclosing confidential information or behaving inappropriately, they could be subject to disciplinary action.

EST HR can help with writing a relationship at work policy or provide guidance towards handling any tricky work/play issues.