January 15, 2009

When your staff become best mates

A lot of workmates get along nicely, but what about when they become really great mates? Does it impact your work environment for better or worse? Is it all secrets and insider gossip or is it support and deeper teamwork? An impact on the workplace that I’ve seen is when two people become close mates, it can sometimes leave other workers feeling left out. They don’t want to interrupt their ‘best friend convos’ and fear being rejected if they do. Or worse they think they are whispering about them! I’ve also seen that when great mates, they share everything – meaning they have a lot of talking to do and not just at lunch time. Do mates in the workplace mean they get less work done because they spend more time yakking? Or perhaps the yak breaks motivate them to work harder when they do have their head down?

In jobs that students and teenagers fill as a ‘for now’ job it is often the atmosphere that makes them keep coming back. They may despise the work, but the fun they have with the people while doing it makes it worthwhile. It is that friendship and fun that will keep turnover low (hence saving you money). In a more serious job friendship can raise different issues. If you moan excessively about the boss to your friend your words may come back to bite you if your friend isn’t committed to the friendship or you fall out further down the track.

The Gallup Workplace Survey asks “Do you have a best friend at work?” and they found friendship could rate higher than other motivators like pay and benefits could. Lots of evidence online points to friendship being positive for the workplace. It seems only bad managers have something to worry about. If workers find the boss inadequate they may spend time discussing this, in time this can lower morale and their performance by making the ‘us vs. them’ atmosphere stronger. There may be insider gossip involved in friendship, but the team work and support will be deeper. If you want gossip to stop – then sort out the culture, not the friends!

I would suggest that bosses carefully think about how to deal with work friendship problems BEFORE they arise. Because if someone gets in a grumble with someone, then the ‘best mates’ may start a ‘taking sides’ situation which could form borderline bullying and ganging up as the friends look out for each other. When conflicts arise, more care does need to be taken when those with ‘best mates’ are concerned. If the atmosphere remains tense while the conflict is sorted the ‘complainer’ will have not one but two people giving them the evils – that can be scary.

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