Work is a huge part of our lives. Think about it: assuming that we work an average 39 hours a week, that's over 90,000 hours in a lifetime, or about a third of our lives!
And, as the writer Annie Dillard once said, "How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives." So, it's only natural that some of the closest relationships that we form are with people we see every day at work.
In fact, having work colleagues that you count as friends, or even partners, can have significant personal and organizational benefits. It can improve staff retention, job satisfaction, morale, teamwork, collaboration, and productivity.
But, a 2015 study revealed that there are also risks in having personal relationships at work. For example, they can be a major distraction. Small talk with co-workers is one thing, but these chats can sometimes lead to deeper discussions – which, while fun, can eat into core work time.
Personal relationships at work can lead to emotional exhaustion, too. Friendships take effort, after all, and the time and energy we put into them can take its toll.
Then there are the ugly ramifications if things go wrong. If a relationship turns sour, you can't just walk away – you'll likely still have to see that person every day. We're also more likely to feel envious of the people we are close to, which can cause problems if, say, your spouse gets promoted over you.
Finally, there's the big issue that's on everyone's minds at the moment – personal boundaries. What if someone oversteps the mark and becomes a bit too friendly or, worse, behaves inappropriately? Where does the professional relationship stop and the personal start?
We wanted to find out your thoughts on how to deal with personal relationships in the workplace. So, we threw this question out to our followers on social media. As ever, the responses that we received gave some great insights into the topic. Here are some of the best ones:
An interesting conversation developed on Twitter, which focused on how good communication and, in particular, good listening skills can help to solidify relationships at work.
@SavvySarahSPM kick-started the discussion with her comment, "Take time to invest in your workplace relationships – show genuine interest in others, get to know people as individuals, learn about what motivates them. We can all make positive connections with those we work with without necessarily being friends. Everyone benefits."
This sparked a debate about how to show "genuine" interest in others, with many of you suggesting that the key is to listen. As @Midgie_MT explained, "People tend to listen just waiting for their chance to reply! It takes practice and some effort to be fully present and to fully listen!"
Another of our followers, @joolsbk, labeled this kind of listening "autobiographical." She went on to say, "It has been such a useful term when working with people new to coaching and other situations where they need to learn to listen deeply."
Some of you suggested that the responsibility of managing personal relationships at work should be down to the organization. LinkedIn follower Stephen Thorlby-Coy said that organizations should, "Treat staff as adults! Friendships and romantic relationships are inevitable – as are conflict and falling out. Managers should focus on managing work impact, not the cause."
Noha Kamel, also on LinkedIn, agreed. She said, "The most important guideline is our organization's welfare." She also recommended staying clear of "ego attacks."
Interestingly, many of you believe that the key to successfully managing personal relationships at work is to avoid them entirely!
As LinkedIn follower Yolande explained, "Keep it professional. If you want to be friends with someone, be sure that both of you understand that work is work, and friendship is friendship, and you can't mix the two." Todd William Bagnall agreed. He said, "Each situation is different. I try to steer clear of sentimental relationships at work as they can affect decision making."
On Facebook, our friend Precious Anum took a similar stance. She said, "Never mix personal and professional life." Mohammad Ismail Banat, said that, for him, keeping the personal separate from the professional helps him to avoid unconscious bias. He revealed, "I am positively tough, hence I will not allow personal relationships to be mixed with work. Usually, having a personal relationship with a colleague means that I should give him/her extra attention and waste more time on personal things rather than work."
Do you agree that personal relationships have no place at work? Or, if not, how do you make sure that they don't affect your professionalism and productivity? Share your thoughts, below.
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