Introducing a concept that may be challenging for some to digest: the people you share your workspaces with—your coworkers—are not truly your friends, or in blunt terms, work friends are not real friends.
This is not to discount the value of a positive, friendly work environment. Indeed, camaraderie and professional respect are crucial components of a healthy workplace and cordial relationships with coworkers can enhance one’s work experience.
However, this post will unveil solid reasons illustrating why drawing boundaries and maintaining a degree of professional detachment is essential.
It’s crucial to understand that the friendly dynamics you share with your coworkers primarily revolve around professional common ground and may not translate to a genuine, supportive friendship outside the work environment.
Let’s explore this insight, enabling you to navigate your professional relationships with clarity and purpose, without unnecessary embellishments. Understanding the difference between real friends and work friends is crucial in maintaining professional decorum and avoiding any potential pitfalls in workplace dynamics.
6 Reasons Why Your Coworkers Are Not Your Friends
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There’s a reason Americans only consider 15 percent of coworkers real friends. Many have learned the hard way that while it’s essential to build relationships with your coworkers and remain on good terms, they’re not true friends.
Another 20 percent are considered “only-at-work” friends, which means respondents realized the value of establishing solid boundaries between their professional and personal lives.
Here are some sticky situations that can arise when you get too cozy with your colleagues at the company office.
1. The Professional Dilemma: Getting Promoted Over a Work Friend
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One of the most common scenarios that present problems is when you get a promotion over your work friend. Perhaps both of you were vying for that promotion, and you were the one your boss picked.
Your work friend may now resent you and even try to sabotage you out of jealousy. They may refuse to follow orders.
If you received a promotion to be a group leader over your group of work friends, the group may not take you seriously and not follow your orders, considering you an equal.
On your end, you may have a tough time enforcing rules and punishing people who don’t comply with your authority. After all, they are your good friends, and you don’t want a falling out.
That’s why it’s essential to ensure that your relationship with your coworkers is, above all, professional.
Also Read: Signs Your Job Is At Risk
2. Navigating Loyalties: Covering for Work Friends and Professional Ethics
Another common scenario is when a work friend asks you to cover for them when they are slacking off. They may ask you to lie to your boss about their behavior when your boss asks you about them.
If you don’t, you may have a falling out with your work friend, and your workplace may become a place full of tension instead of a place you look forward to going to every day.
However, if you do cover for them, your boss will likely eventually find out. You may face professional consequences that can damage your career.
3. Unable to Warn a Work Friend
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Let’s say your boss is planning on firing a work friend of yours. There’s nothing more you want to do than warn them of what’s coming, so they can start looking for another job and aren’t caught off guard.
After all, they’re your friend! They will hate you if they find out you knew the whole time and didn’t warn them.
However, your boss has prohibited you from disclosing that information to them. You have no choice but to remain silent, but it will eat away at you.
4. The Risks of Oversharing: Balancing Transparency with Work Friends
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A common problem that can occur due to being too close with coworkers is oversharing details that can damage your career.
Perhaps you told them the real reason you missed a meeting – you had a wild night out with friends and woke up late with a terrible hangover.
Or, perhaps you were a bit too open about your life plans and disclosed that you’re looking for a new job or planning to quit soon so you can return to school.
You may think that information is safe. After all, your coworker is your friend, and they wouldn’t share it with anyone – right?
First of all, gossip has a way of getting around. Perhaps your coworker trusted someone else in the workplace with that information when they shouldn’t have.
Eventually, that information can make its way to your boss, who may decide to cut you off and find a replacement instead of dealing with a coworker they see as uncommitted.
Don’t underestimate your coworkers, either. At the end of the day, they’re not coming to the office to become good friends and chill with you at the water cooler.
They’re there for their paycheck—it’s not just about earning money, it’s their livelihood. Understanding that work friends are not real friends is crucial. They’re almost always going to choose job security over you.
If they are facing a possible suspension, or if they simply think it will help them advance in their career, they may turn on you and stab you in the back.
For example, if your boss was planning on assigning you a particular project that your coworker wants or was considering promoting you, they may convince the boss to give the project or promotion to them instead – after all, you will be leaving soon!
Backstabbing happens in the workplace more often than it should.
Be cautious of your coworkers, and don’t overshare details about your personal life and career plans.
Also Read: Traits Toxic Bosses Have In Common
5. Dating Drama
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While keeping your coworkers at arm’s length is essential, dating a coworker is an even bigger mistake than being friends with one. There’s a reason for the saying, “Don’t s*** where you eat.”
Dating a coworker leads to endless gossip and office drama. The hard truth is that most relationships don’t work out in the long run.
We’ve all heard the depressing statistic: 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. While that’s no longer true due to dropping divorce rates, the average married couple still has around a 25 percent chance of getting divorced.
That’s still a pretty high divorce rate. And, if that’s the case for marriages, imagine how many new relationships don’t pan out.
Every relationship has a honeymoon phase when both people are enamored with each other. It takes at least a few months for people to start noticing the little annoying things that frustrate them and lead to fights.
If you date someone from your office, there may be an even greater chance of breaking up, as you see them every day, day in and day out.
You don’t have the opportunity to miss them when you go to work. Seeing your partner every day can make it easy for you to notice the annoying things more than the things you love about them.
If you do break up, things will get tricky at the office. It’ll either be frosty (the cold shoulder), complicating interoffice communication and making it harder to work together, or hot and heated.
The latter may be even worse than having a frosty relationship with your ex/coworker. There will be disputes about everything, backstabbing, sabotaging, and endless office drama and gossip.
If you break up, and you or your ex starts dating another coworker, things can get even more dramatic. There may be jealousy, or it may simply be so heart-crushing that you decide to quit rather than see your ex lovey-dovey with someone else day in and day out.
Here are a few other reasons you don’t want to date someone from the office:
- It can be pretty distracting, and you’ll find it hard to focus on work when your loved one is always in sight.
- Your relationship should be an escape from the grind of work. However, if you date someone from work, you won’t have that luxury, as much of your conversations will inevitably be about work.
- It’s simply unprofessional and doesn’t reflect well on you. You may try to keep it a secret, but if you date long enough, someone will find out, or people will have suspicions based on the way you interact with each other.
Also Read: Tips To Deal With A Difficult Female Boss
6. Other Office Drama
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While breaking up with a coworker you’re dating can be dramatic, so can falling out with a friend who is your coworker. People have “breakups” with friends for many reasons, and you’re not immune just because you’re coworkers.
Another type of office drama can arise when you have to choose between two people for a project or promotion and are friends with both candidates. How do you decide without creating tension and hard feelings?
Check Out: Bad Reasons To Quit Your Job
6 Strategies For Maintaining Professional and Personal Life Boundaries
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We all know that building connections in the workplace is essential.
A big part of teamwork is communication, which is why many companies try to foster positive company culture and even hold after-work events, so people can build better relationships and get acquainted with each other.
However, how do you do all that while realizing that your co-workers aren’t your friends? Here are some tips for handling office relationships.
1. Separate Professional Relationships from Personal Life: Don’t Blur the Lines
Always maintain a clear distinction between personal and professional life. Cultivate professional relationships that are cordial and cooperative, allowing for more established and deeper connections that are beneficial in a work setting.
However, don’t blur the lines. At the end of the day, remember that work friendships are based on professional relationships above all, and maintaining clarity between the two is essential.
In managing work life, it can be hard to find the right balance sometimes. As a general rule, it’s better to undershare than to overshare, so if you’re unsure if you’re getting too close, take a step back without being too obvious about it.
Also Read: Things That Will Get You Fired Immediately
2. Have a Filter
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Some people just don’t have a filter and don’t know when to stop talking. Know what to share and what not to share.
You might share a crazy dating story that happened to you long ago, but your co-workers don’t need to know the ins and outs of your current relationship.
Perhaps you’ll say something about your career plans, but you don’t need to mention that this job is just a stepping stone for something bigger.
Having a filter is essential in maintaining a balanced professional relationship, knowing what to share and what to keep to oneself helps in sustaining a professional image and avoiding unnecessary conflicts or misunderstandings.
Check Out: Other Ways To Say Sorry At Work
3. Being Friendly vs Being Friends: Professional Life Dilemma
There’s a big difference between being friendly and being friends at work. According to the study cited above, Americans only consider two percent of co-workers enemies.
While maintaining healthy, friendly relationships with colleagues is crucial, it’s vital to remember that they aren’t replacements for relationships with your own family and non-work friends.
Just because you are friendly with them, that doesn’t mean you are friends.
4. Keep Co-workers Off Your Social Media
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This rule is important, but many people don’t abide by it. Keep your co-workers off your social media – there’s no reason to be friends on Facebook, follow each other on Instagram, or give them your TikTok.
However, you may share a picture or video at a club late one night, getting drinks with your other friends. You may not realize that your co-workers saw it and know the real reason you were late next work day.
Let’s examine a more innocent example. You took a sick day because you weren’t feeling well.
While in bed, you looked through your gallery and found an old video of you going hiking. You realize you forgot to post it then, so you post it now – without realizing that your coworkers see it and don’t know it’s just a flashback, not a real-time update.
Your coworkers may think you pretended to be sick to go hiking, which can land you in trouble.
Instead, keep communication with your co-workers limited to phone calls, texts, WhatsApp, and group chats.
I would also advise hiding your WhatsApp status from them if you share personal details about your life there.
5. Avoiding Gossip and Office Drama
Don’t invite drama into your life. One of the best ways to keep your life drama-free is to not engage with drama when it presents itself to you.
For example, don’t gossip about other coworkers. That just contributes to a culture of gossip and drama in the workplace.
6. Never Date a Co-worker
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Finally, it goes without saying that you should never date a coworker, no matter how great you think they might be for you. Trust me; it isn’t worth it.
You might feel like you’re falling in love, but you’re probably not missing out on as much as you think you are.
Often, it’s the forbidden fruit – the people you know you’re not supposed to date – who seem more attractive than they truly are.
Coworkers Are Not Your Friends – Wrapping It Up
If most of your work life revolves around work, not considering your coworkers as close friends can be difficult, especially if you don’t have much of a social life outside of work.
However, in the long run, managing workplace friendships and keeping professional boundaries will help you avoid stress and sticky situations that can damage your career.
Tom loves to write on technology, e-commerce & internet marketing. I started my first e-commerce company in college, designing and selling t-shirts for my campus bar crawl using print-on-demand. Having successfully established multiple 6 & 7-figure e-commerce businesses (in women’s fashion and hiking gear), I think I can share a tip or 2 to help you succeed.