I am writing to you today make you aware of an issue that is coming up more and more at your colleges: workplace friendships and “professionalism.” As the colleges have become fearful of lawsuits they have become more aggressive in their policing of behavior in the office and the classroom. Here are some tips to hopefully keep you out of trouble at the job in this new era of hypervigilance and intense scrutiny.
The first thing that you should be aware of is that while professionalism involves a person to be “friendly” in the workplace, it does not mean that everyone is your friend. Coworkers must keep workplace relationships professional. The goal at work for most people is advancement, so a friend today can be a foe tomorrow as everyone seeks to be noticed by the right players within their organization. Remember that while you may love your job and enjoy your co-workers, at the end of the day you are in a professional environment and the goals of your department or college are driven by business decisions, not personal ones.
Boundary issues are another thing to be concerned about when navigating friendship in the workplace. Employees who become friends on the job may share too much personal information about themselves, which can then come back to haunt them if a colleague is promoted or shares the personal details with others. Don’t forget human nature: a colleague whom you upset may become vindictive and use things you’ve shared with them against you. Please realize that the fallout from some disclosures can be devastating to your career if they reach the wrong ears, so I advise caution when sharing personal information with a “friend” at work.
The key here is balance: finding a way to establish amicable acquaintances with the people you work with while avoiding the pitfalls of friendship gone wrong. The first step is to not get so emotional. Your office interactions have to proceed according to the goals of your department, not what you “feel” is right or wrong. When employees allow their emotions to get involved, it is difficult to separate the personal from the professional. Another tip is to clearly outline goals and objectives in writing – this way no one can “stab you in the back” and misrepresent your position or actions on a particular project. Also, while on the college’s time focus on your tasks, projects and assignments; this way, you can’t be accused of not fulfilling your job duties because of socializing. Lastly, remember to be respectful of your co-workers, supervisors or subordinates when they let you know they want to keep their relationships with you professional. It doesn’t matter if you are male or female, supervisor or subordinate, the stakes are just too high to risk ignoring the personal/professional boundaries of others in your workplace.