Friends at work

Getting together with the gang after
work can be fun — and, as a survey
suggests, may be good for business.

Fifty-seven percent of executives recently
polled said that office friendships help on-the-job performance for employees; 63 percent of the employees themselves agreed.
But managers and employees aren’t as
aligned when it comes to just how beneficial it is to have buddies on the job: Twenty-two percent of employees said befriending
coworkers has a “very positive” impact on
productivity while only 2 percent of managers felt as strongly.

The surveys, developed by Accountemps
— the world’s first and largest specialized
staffing service for temporary accounting,
finance and bookkeeping professionals —
included responses from 150 senior executives and 519 full- or part-time office workers.

“Friendships at work establish that people get along and can work well together,”
said Lisa Morgan, branch manager at
Accountemps in Akron, Ohio. “Friendships
can be a wonderful win-win for both the
employee and the company and create a
very nice team atmosphere.”

Smart Business spoke with Morgan
about the benefits, as well as some drawbacks, to mixing friendships and work
responsibilities.

Since friendships can help productivity in the
workplace, what can managers do to encourage friendships in the office environment?

Supervisors can create an environment
where coworkers are encouraged to celebrate each other’s successes. This can be
done through team-building lunches, trainings, retreats and brainstorming sessions.
It is beneficial to try and get workers outside the office environment, since this
often helps foster friendships.

In the survey, managers were less enthusiastic in their response about how friendships
affect work productivity in the office. Why do
you think they have a different view about
this?

Because managers have a different level
of responsibility, they probably tend to look at friendships with a more critical eye.
For example, as an employee, I might think
it would be wonderful to work with all of
my friends, and I might not think of the
consequences of how it might affect my
work performance — positively or negatively. As a manager, however, I would view
this more critically. I would think how this
could impact the work environment if it is
not managed correctly.

What might be some of the downsides to having friendships at work?

There might be several. For one, if the
friendship starts to exclude other people, it
might have a negative impact on morale
within a department. Another would be
bringing too much personal talk into the
office environment, such as talk about
weekend plans, what they did last night —
in general, just too much socializing.

From a manager’s standpoint, it is important for everyone to be an equal part of the
team and intense friendships can be
viewed as clique-ish. A way a manager can
handle this would be to occasionally form
work groups using different departments
(if that’s appropriate) to tackle projects.

The manager might also want to talk to
the friends if too much socializing is preventing workflow, or excluding other individuals in the office. Friends may not even
realize they are excluding others, and just
pointing it out in a non-threatening way
may be enough for them to start including
others, or to pare down the idle chit-chat
that might be going on.

Is there a way for a manager to bring these
issues up without discouraging the friendship?

It is a fine line, but a good manager will
not want to discourage a positive friendship. The key is to keep the lines of communication open with employees and have
one-on-one conversations with the friends
should problems arise. These issues should
never be aired in public. It is important for
the manager not to give the impression that
there is something wrong with having a
friend in the office, only that behavior such
as excluding others, or too much socializing is impacting workflow or morale.

Office friendships are one thing, but what
about office romances?

Having an office romance is vastly different from having office friendships. It’s taking office friendship to the extreme level,
and some view it as crossing the line. Most
managers view this as unprofessional and
having the potential of wreaking havoc on
office morale. If it does happen, the public
display of affection needs to be non-existent during office hours, and the couple
should not be exclusively with each other
every second of the day. Overall, it is a very
hard line to walk. If friendships can become cliquish, romantic relationships are
the extreme version of this that can really
shut other people out.

LISA MORGAN is a branch manager with Accountemps based
in Akron, Ohio. Accountemps has more than 350 offices throughout North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, and offers
online job search services at www.accountemps.com. Reach
Morgan at (330) 253-8367 or [email protected].

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