If you are like the majority of Americans, then you probably have limited contact with co-workers outside of the office. For some people this is by design, they want to keep personal and professional contacts separate. This is especially true if there is a leader/subordinate connection between the two people.
However, there is plenty of research evidence indicating companies with employees who have strong connections with each other not only function better, they are also happier. Creating a family-type atmosphere helps to foster engaged employees, increases retention, and improves the overall experience of employees when they are at work. They also go home happier.
If friendships are so good for a company, why do so many companies create a culture that doesn’t encourage friendship? Some companies feel that people with close connections will impede productivity, others feel that they might cause cliques to be formed, or even fear lawsuits if a relationship sours.
There is no doubt that workplace friendships can become tricky. The key is to have a policy about relationships and drawing clear boundaries for activity at work.
Realize Where The Issue Will Have The Most Impact
Middle management is the level of leadership where friendships become an issue. It’s not an issue for people who are working at the same level of leadership because there is no “boss” factor involved. But, if a friend is promoted and has supervision over an old set of co-workers, then it can become an issue if not handled properly.
Part of the leadership development for middle management is to learn how to maintain their good relationships but also create appropriate boundaries with their friends. Afterall, you can’t have newly promoted managers exhibit signs of preferential treatment for friends, but you can’t hover over them. Managers need to learn how to lead their part of your company fairly and with a level of autonomy.
Furthermore, you can’t ask them to give up their friendships because you promoted them. If people knew that was a requirement of promotions, you could find yourself in need of qualified candidates.
Setting Boundaries With Solid Policies And On-going Training
The secret to this problem is setting boundaries for conduct at work. You can accomplish this by creating policies about what kind of behavior is appropriate at work.Your HR staff should write the policies and conduct training for everybody in the company. Then make the training part of your regular training cycle.
In most cases, the new managers will establish boundaries organically. New members of middle management will either know or work it out with their friends about how their conduct would be at work. Likewise, they will establish the same boundaries when they are away from work.
If you’re running a business with a small number of employees, then this might seem like an issue that doesn’t affect your company. However, having policies in place makes your operation more scalable. As your company grows, as your staff increases, you will have a plan already in place.
Equal Parts Consulting works with many businesses about this issue. If you have concerns or questions and would like to discuss them with us, we invite you to give us a call and set an informative meeting. After all, if you have more than two people working at your company, this issue will arise at some point.