Since most of us spend the majority of every waking minute at work, it stands to reason that we would make friends in the office. Maintaining friendship with a coworker can make long hours at the desk seem more tolerable, and friendly coworkers can provide a sounding board when things get rough. Of course, there are also obstacles to having friends in the office, so you'll need to look out for your best interests when making work buddies.
Competition in the Workplace
Just about every employment situation in the world comes with at least some measure of competition. Employees are vying for raises, promotions and recognition from their superiors, which can make maintaining a friendship with a coworker difficult. Unless you are able to compete without letting it interfere with your personal relationships, this might be something you want to steer clear of.
However, if you do want to maintain a friendship with a coworker, you can minimize the potential damage by creating a support structure rather than an arena for competition. Encourage one another to succeed at work, give each other pointers for better performance and try not to feel jealous if your friend happens to get a promotion that you really wanted. Or, at the very least, don't let your jealousy show.
Socializing Outside of Work
To maintain a friendship with a coworker, you will probably want to go out for drinks after work or get together with your families on the weekends. This is all healthy, but you should avoid straining your professional relationship by keeping the conversation light. Unfortunately, many friendships that develop at work are based exclusively on shared career interests, and little can develop beyond that limited scope of qualities.
When you socialize outside of work, try to talk about everything but the office. Discuss your favorite sports teams, your families and your other friends. A friendship with a coworker might be built on a foundation of career-related interests, but don't let your friendship become about work exclusively.
Dealing with Seniority
You can maintain a friendship with a coworker regardless of seniority, but, when one friend outranks the other at work, negative consequences can follow. For example, you might make a mistake in the office, which means that your friend must reprimand you. This can understandably lead to problems outside the professional relationship.
If your coworker is above you in the intra-office hierarchy, the best thing you can do is keep your personal and professional relationships separate. At work, don't talk about what you're going to do over the weekend or whether you're going to the party on Saturday night. Similarly, don't discuss work issues at home. Also avoid discussing problems that might have arisen during the week.
Talk to your coworker about seniority if you want your friendship to prosper. Explain that you have no interest in receiving special consideration at work and that you hope to be treated like every other employee on your "level." You can also request that you not discuss your personal life at work, which should help to maintain a strict boundary between the office and the home.
A friendship with a coworker can hit many snags over the years, creating tension in both your personal and professional lives. This doesn't mean you have to go your separate ways, but it helps to have a plan of action should a problem arise.
For example, let's say your coworker drops the ball and doesn't complete an important project on time. As a result, you look bad in front of your boss, and you know that your friend was slacking off. You've been maintaining a great friendship outside of work for years, but suddenly you can't stand the idea of sitting in the same room with him, much less getting together for an after-work slice at the pizzeria.
In this case, you'll need to evaluate your friendship and decide if it's worth the effort to keep it alive. Will you regret letting your friendship fall by the wayside, or do you think he's a friend you could do without? If you decide you want to try to rebuild your relationship, discuss the work problem at work, then come to a solution or compromise that will work for both of you.
After your work discussion, however, you'll need to let the matter drop. Don't bring it up when you go out after work or when your families go to the zoo together on Saturday. This might be the most difficult aspect of maintaining a friendship with a coworker, but you'll have to exercise some degree of self-control.
Despite all of the obstacles you'll face in a friendship with a coworker, there are limitless benefits to this type of situation. You might find that you're happier at work because friendly faces greet you every morning, and it always helps to have an ally at the office. Furthermore, you can help one another advance your respective careers, as long as you do so responsibly.
In the end, a friendship can develop just about anywhere. There's no reason to throw it away just because you happen to work together. Just face the fact that it might take some effort on both sides to make sure work doesn't come between you.
There will always be that guy in the office who will do anything to get ahead -- including backstabbing his coworkers. He trashes your work to your boss and friends, he spreads rumors about you and your family and he never misses an opportunity to show you up.