Thursday, December 07, 2006

Is making friends with co-workers a bad idea?

I had a long conversation this weekend with my friend Ellis about a seminar he went to dealing with tips to help you succeed in the workplace.
One of the most interesting topics speaker Harriette Cole, an author, life coach, and president of profundities inc., discussed was forming friendships at work.

Cole said that work is not the place to make friends, only strategic relationships that will help you with your ultimate goal – to succeed, Ellis said. He also reported that Cole said those who feel the need for work friendships don’t have a strong enough support structure outside of work.

Ellis, a program manager for a large defense contractor, agreed whole-heartedly with this and it even sounded like he was going to do away with a few of the friendships he had formed at work. It felt like he was urging me to do the same.
I totally understood what Cole was saying and why Ellis felt the way he did. But when it comes to me, I enjoy having friends at work.

I think our newsroom environment is very different from Ellis’ in corporate America. Everyday is another battle for him to win the attention of his bosses, to stand out above the rest. Here, we battle everyday, but it seems more like we’re battling those on the outside than eachother.
I think work would be much more difficult for me if I didn’t have the few friends I’ve got here. I feel like they understand what I’m talking about when I’m mad or frustrated and they can also relate to and are happy about my successes.

I sent out a quick e-mail to some of my co-workers just to see their take on this and there were mixed opinions. Most thought like me, that friends at work are more helpful than harmful and in some cases a necessity. Some partly sided with Ellis, stating that when those friendships go bad they can cause stressful work relationships, not just for the two involved but others around them. Another good point was that forming friendships at work can create cliques, alienating other co-workers.

What do you think? Do you strive to make friends at work or does it just happen? And do you think the whole friendship at work issue differs from industry to industry?


Diane Haag said...

The more I think about Cole's reasoning, the more troubled I am by it and how selfish and utilitarian it sounds. "I'm only going to be friends with you if you can help me in my career." What is wrong with this picture?

Her argument about not having a strong support network outside of work is probably true. But it's not because we're anti-social. Think about us us. Most of us are single, far from home and spend at least 45 hours a week with these folks in the desks surrounding us. It's natural to find common links and build friendships.

Could the relationship go bad? Of course, just like any relationship. In those cases we just have to learn to be mature adults and remember we have a job to do.

We're not all widgets in a machine, and looking at our co-workers that way certainly doesn't produce a better product.

Anonymous said...

I distrust anyone who calls him- or herself a "life coach." Anyway, aren't friends the original "life coaches"?