Workplace friendship: Risky ethics or a good Performance benefit?

workplace friendship, professional conduct in the workplace, workplace friendship good or bad, good company culture, toxic workplace, employer branding idea, employee satisfaction

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. – Shakespeare

A topic that is ever so present in every workplace and yet not enough discussion is generated to decipher whether this is beneficial or detrimental to a company’s overall business. Human beings are social creatures and we need social interactions and bonds on a daily basis to get that psychological feeling of well-being. We’re simply wired that way and when you think about the 40 hour time spent working during a single week, you inevitably expect created relationships in the workplace. Friendships and bonds generate higher productivity and motivation and this is a factor very much needed for good employee performance. However, on the flip side of that coin, it can be used in ways which can hurt the business or culture as well. Think about a company of about 50 employees, you have Tim who is a head of research & development in a good tech company with a team of 10 people. Tim is on good terms with everybody on the team but as anyone, he interacts more with some while less with others. He even sometimes socializes outside of work with some of them. This creates a bit of a problem for Tim because he needs to choose one employee to be the manager of the team. Here’s where his downfall starts; he chooses an employee whom he’s on really good terms with but whose managing competencies are average at best. Tim crossed the boundaries of his professionalism and basic ethics which made him biased and subjective in quite an important business endeavor, not to mention smearing the company culture in terms of individual employee professional development.

How do we remedy this or prevent it from even happening? Where is the line between bias and professional objectivity? It’s more complicated than it looks and very important in hindsight because it can determine the company culture which will impact the overall business.

Potential backlash.

Creating the boundary with the workplace friendship

The above scenario is from a managerial point of view but it does happen more often than not. Exercising one’s professionalism and objectivity in the workplace should be the number one priority to any employee, let alone a manager who is supposed to be the role model regarding the matter. A workplace friendship isn’t something that’s not allowed in the workplace, it’s actually encouraged because of the aforementioned performance benefits but it can become quite a problem if an unfit employee can use it as a weapon against the company without even realizing it. Favoritism, gossip, jealousy etc. are all a form of crossing the boundary between employees, hierarchical or not, and should be prevented as much as possible. Not only does it hurt the employee’s credibility as a whole but it also hurts the company’s values which is always exactly opposite of that.

Sometimes creating that boundary can be very hard because we’re mostly led by emotions but the right mindset is built from the fact that office attitude stems from a professional conduct that doesn’t allow any bias towards the overall business. The business and employee performance come first so any decision or act that is questionable in the workplace should be done from that point of view. Anything else falls into the category of bias. Tim didn’t like his employee Jason very much but Jason’s competency as a manager was unquestionable. If Tim acted the right way, Jason would become that manager but instead the opposite happened because he put his bias and personal workplace relationship in the matter which didn’t have anything to do with the progress of the business.

Another important factor inside the business cycle is how this looks to other employees, especially the ones who thought that they deserve the position. This is how a weaponized, displaced workplace friendship looks like when we talk about pure company culture. All of the A players in the company immediately know that their chance of hierarchical progress solely depends on the built relationships that don’t have much to do with competency or business – and that is something any reputable company wants to avoid at all cost.

workplace friendship
A picture of emotion for a workplace.

Question thyself

The above sounds exactly what you think. You should always question a workplace decision to check and elaborate whether it came from an emotion or personal bias instead of the right business mindset. Empathy and a healthy relationship with a co-worker should be present and a workplace friendship encouraged but not at the expense of company culture or business. It’s tough to put this in practice because of the emotional drive but if we want to be better, we will do it and we will do it happily.


This topic itself sounds empty and hollow on the surface because many companies operate on the level where this challenge is normal and not tackled enough but don’t know or can’t calculate the hidden costs. It’s a challenge, indeed, but to any HR individual, you don’t even need statistical analysis backed up by numbers to see whether this is good or bad for business. Any company should encourage their culture to evolve to the point of managing the emotional parts of ourselves/workplace friendship and conducting with the ethic and attitude required in the workplace. It’s not easy, but the benefits from the established culture are immense.

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