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As we work more, business friendships growing, changing

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ANN MARIE AMES
November 3, 2007

Making friends is never easy.


But what if it’s the kind of friendship that can be affected by changing deadlines or a demotion?


Or what if a raise in salary makes things awkward between friends?


Relationships can get really tricky when you’re friends with your coworkers.


Workplace relationships are always a concern for employers, said Linda Brown, high school relations director at Blackhawk Technical College. But with more and more Americans working longer hours and taking fewer vacations, it makes sense that the social aspect of the workplace is growing and changing, she said.


“It’s almost as though it’s a new kind of etiquette,” Brown said. “It’s a complex thing.”


The big fear for employers is when friendships blow up, work relations can blow up as well. Bosses don’t want to have to manage something that’s not work related, Brown said.


“If friends fall out, you’ll still have to work together,” Brown said. “They have to be a mediator about something that’s got nothing to do with work.”


Being friends with your colleagues has its benefits.


Sometimes a very competent worker gets fired because he or she can’t work well with the rest of the office. Working with like-minded people can ease stress.


Aside from sitting by you for 40 hours a week, coworkers can fill a niche in a person’s life, said Betty Magnus, co-owner and clinical director at Associates in Psychotherapy in Janesville.


Your spouse might not want to hear you complain about contract negotiations for the 48th night in a row. But your work friend is likely to be right there complaining with you, she said.


Of course, that can be a bad thing. You might feel the need to vent about work, but, “A spouse won’t understand that need,” Magnus said.


“Sometimes that can be a problem.”


And while you’re busy venting, keep in mind whom you’re talking to, Magnus said.


Yes, these people are your friends, but they also might be your competition in the workplace.


Be careful how you share personal information, she said.


“… And then it comes back to haunt you, especially if you’re complaining,” Magnus said.


“People have to actually be aware at work—as at any time—you have to think about whom (you’re) telling.”


Successful work friendships are unique and dependent on the individuals involved, Magnus said.


They work for some and not for others, she said.


But they always take some thought.


Magnus said, “Something that seems very simple can get very complicated.”


Advice on workplace friendships

Linda Brown, Blackhawk Technical College’s director of high school relations, shared some resources that she thinks give good advice on workplace friendships.


-- Work can become a “second family.” That’s nice, but it means you might get stuck hearing personal problems when you’re trying to work.


“If you’re a good listener and you nod your head when somebody’s talking about their problems, they just don’t stop talking,” said Janie Harden Fritz, associate professor of communication and rhetorical studies at Duquesne University in a Health.com article.


The solution? Do not listen simply to be nice, Fritz said. Instead, politely bring the conversation back to something work-related.


-- Be sure to make friends outside the office, said Patricia Sias, professor of communication at Washington State University in the same article.


“So when you are going through difficult things, you don’t have to bring it all in to your coworkers. Have friends in the neighborhood or family that can give you the support you need.”


-- Pull your weight.


“Tardiness, missed deadlines and irresponsible mistakes can cost an organization time and money,” wrote A. G. Koepcke in a March 18 article on suite101.com. “If you want to have a good relationship with your coworkers, don’t be a source of stress. People will lose trust in your ability to be a productive member of the team and will resent you.”


In the same article, Koepcke said, “Remember, it is work. It is not your life. You and your team members are assembled to reach the organization’s goals in the most effective way possible. You can be on good terms with every team member by having a positive attitude and staying focused on the objective. Workplace friendships can make your job easier!”



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