A Gallup survey measuring employee engagement had a surprising question: do you have a best friend at work? Those that did, performed better, and reported 50% more employee satisfaction. Most employees also defined a good workplace culture by factors of trust, belongingness, and inclusion.

Yet, many of us either refrain from or have difficulty building deep friendships at our offices. The reason: apprehensions and emotions that could complicate such bonds. With 46% employees believing that workplace friendships play an important role in their happiness, we bring you three suggestions to navigate this challenging space.

#1: Create clarity

Leadership coach Kristi Hedges suggests that employees, especially bosses and managers, must master the art of communication with clarity, and conflict management. This, to ensure both your friendship and your work relationship remain healthy. To do so:

  • Communicate role expectations clearly and reiterate them during reviews.
  • Set clear agendas so it’s hard for conversations to veer off task.
  • Be clear about keeping work and business first, so that your friendship is not a threat to the organization.

#2: Manage boundaries

Ramzi Najm, a senior associate from the pharma industry, says it is critical to establish personal and professional boundaries.

  • Define the ‘rules’ of the relationship — e.g. no work discussions in social settings. That way, you know what to expect.
  • Keep work-related feedback objective and professional. In case you want to share a personal insight or a personal development tip, ask for permission to share it as a friend and not as an associate.

#3: Be transparent

Since we hold different roles in the organizational structure, we are often privy to data and information that our friends aren’t. It could make things awkward. Sabina Nawaz, a CEO coach, advocates transparency in such situations. Be transparent about what you can and can’t share with your friends. State clearly if you feel emotionally conflicted. For instance – need to decide the pay hike of a colleague, who is also a dear friend.

Setting norms to manage friendships might sound strange. But it helps steer through sticky patches and save the relationship from being fraught with emotion. In other words, the effort is worth it. Will you make that effort and build workplace friendships you cherish?

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