Culture Myth: Friends at Work Equals More Liability

I’m a firm believer that policies that prohibit people from socializing with coworkers and/or supervisors outside of work do more harm than good. To me it seems ridiculous to attempt to control something like this for a few reasons:

1) Connections with other people are a natural part of being human.

We spend more time at work than we do most other places. If employees aren’t connecting with their coworkers and becoming friends than there is a serious problem either with them and their ability to relate with others or your company is hiring a bunch of unlikable people. Either isn’t good.

2) Friendships with coworkers and supervisors outside of work get people together, talking, generating ideas, which are probably related to what they have in common. And that my friend is you!

I spend many hours outside of the office with my friends who also happen to be my coworkers and dare I say even my bosses. The ideas that we come up with have not only made us happier at work they have made our business better and more efficient. Information flows better when you like the people you are with. Friendship comes along with a level of trust. That trust in each other is what helps to create a great company.

3) It has been shown over and over again that employees who have a best friend at work are more satisfied and productive then those who don’t.

Don’t you want your employees to be satisfied and productive? Let them co-mingle then.

4) They are doing it anyways.

So providing your company doesn’t have a slew of unlikable people with no common interests I can guarantee they are doing it anyways. Stop trying to fight what is in our DNA. I worked for a company many years ago that had a strict policy against socializing outside of work. I almost always made friends with my superiors there and even met, dated, and eventually married an employee. (Gasp!) The sky didn’t fall, wars weren’t started, and ultimately the world didn’t come to an end. Everybody knew who was dating who and who was friends with who, except for the weird, antisocial, not likable, depressed, and very hard to get along with top boss. But since none of us liked him anyways…we continued building relationships and friendships and ultimately made the world a better place.

I know liability exists. But it exists in many things, and most of those are out of your control. The type of people who are going to file frivolous lawsuits should have been spotted by their other probably negative behavior long ago. In fact…they shouldn’t have been hired at all. Embrace a culture where people are encouraged to be who they are and where they can choose to be friends with who they want to be friends with. It will be a better use of your time and in the long run will dramatically reduce your overall liability if you focus on creating a great culture where people want to work and have your company’s best interest at heart.

Editors Note: Thanks to Jamie Naughton, former Cruise Ship Captain and current Speaker of the House at one of my favorite companies for writing this post. There’s a lot more to come from her here at Culture Fanatics in the future.

About Marisa

Marisa Keegan is a leadership coach, trainer, and HR consultant for quickly growing organizations who are passionate about strengthening their employees, their brand, and their culture. She has helped lead the HR, culture, and engagement initiatives at two nationally recognized great places to work; Rackspace as Culture Maven and Modea as Talent Manger. She is an author at Fistful of Talent and Culture Fanatics. Marisa has her Masters in Industrial Organizational Psychology and currently lives with her husband and twin boys in Richmond, Virginia.
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