Managing workplace friendships in your small business

Wednesday February 16, 2022

In a small business, it can be easy for employees to connect with co-workers, giving workplace friendships a chance to develop and flourish.

This can be ideal for employers as there are many positives to be gained from friendships in the workplace. When employees have friends at work, job satisfaction and employee retention are higher.

A US study on the subject revealed that the majority of those who reported having a work best friend also felt a strong connection to the company.

It does appear to be the dream scenario to have everyone get along all the time.

We know, however, from our experience of working closely with various SMEs, that the reality can be a little different. So to reap the benefits, but also reduce the potential risks associated with workplace friendships, we thought a few helpful tips might come in handy for employers.

Helping workplace friendships to thrive in the time of hybrid

Along with many other aspects of work, employee friendships have had to adapt due to the pandemic. Catch ups at the kettle and spontaneous conversations disappeared during lockdown. Distance meant that relationships of all kinds required a bit of extra effort to survive.

Equally, it can be more of a challenge for new employees to form bonds and friendships when joining a remote business. More time for work, but less affinity and less of the joy that can be gained from feeling included.

Businesses that are continuing to work remotely or adopting a hybrid model of working, which includes some time in the office and some time elsewhere, may benefit from suggesting a social calendar for the team. Unless hybrid workers all work the same schedule, they could just be crossing paths. An arranged get together can provide an opportunity to connect and bond with co-workers.

With workplace friendships having positives for worker well-being and retention, a culture where they can form is good for business.

Establishing ways to keep employees focused

Not all relationships are plain sailing, and the same goes for friendships in the workplace.

Whether it’s a clique making others feel excluded, best friends falling out and causing a tense atmosphere, or co-workers becoming friends and then more, all sorts of friend drama can interrupt work and cause your team to lose focus. It all fuels office gossip after all.

You won’t want to ban friendships as that would be extremely difficult and could negatively impact other areas of work, like collaboration and inclusivity. So what can you do to manage workplace friendships, and how much can you get involved?

Ultimately, employees are at work to work, and this should be their primary focus. If you feel that distractions are impacting productivity, simple processes to manage these distractions can help.

Aside from asking a chatty pair to keep it down, it’s a good idea to observe how employees are working together to see where else you may need to interject. For example, performance reviews and deadlines can be used to remind workers of where their focus needs to be.

If you’re concerned about silos or clique-like behaviours affecting the rest of your team, consider if there might be opportunities for employees to work with colleagues they have not collaborated with in the past. If you get some pushback, you’ll want to investigate further to see what’s really going on.

If you’re dealing with a friendship gone sour, or even just a clash of personalities which can have a big impact in a small business, you may need to step in and mediate.

Keeping it professional

There might be times when you yourself have formed a friendship with an employee. Whilst this can make the workday more appealing, it’s best to keep things professional. You’ll want to avoid any situations that could look like favouritism and be mindful of the example being set for the rest of the team.

Need help establishing boundaries on friendships in your business? Don’t forget that we are here to help.

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