We have a guideline at Halogen on personal relationships at work. It talks about the employment and referral of friends and relatives of existing Halogen employees, and the actual or apparent conflicts of interest those relationships can create if not managed appropriately.
Many organizations have these guidelines or policies in place and they create clarity in what can often be a cloudy and emotive topic. But what about friendships at work that develop between leaders and non-leaders in the company? How appropriate are they and how does a leader manage the actual or perceived conflict of interest this presents? Another leadership conundrum....
We all want to have people at work with whom we connect, and I'd even go as far to say consider as friends. And we all, I hope, want to be seen as professionals at work. But different people have different definitions of that and therefore the boundaries of acceptability, and inherent optics, are different.
Personal relationships at work are all about perception
It's key to remember that as a leader, you are under constant observation. Remember my post about being watched all the time? How you choose to conduct those relationships says a lot about your maturity and professionalism as a leader- even if you don't think so!
I've had many people tell me ‘it's none of their business' to feedback about perceived closeness with others. Well actually, it is their business, and it's yours - if it makes you look like you have favorites, like you might be telling your friends things you shouldn't. It might not be true that you do that, but it's not really about what's true at the end of the day- it's about what people perceive to be true by what they observe.
How do leaders manage personal relationships
You may think that you can easily separate your friendships from your job responsibilities, but are you really being honest with yourself here? Is there no room for even a teeny bit of bias? This is what people worry about. They worry that you're telling your friends stuff you shouldn't, that you're talking about work and people at work with them, that you're laughing about it....that makes people nervous and what's more, it affects your credibility as a leader.
So how do you balance these friendships and your credibility as a leader?
- Limit your exposure to your friends at work- I'm not saying stop being their friend. I'm saying be aware that people are looking and take steps to be cognizant of that. Try not to always be seen having lunch together for example.
- If you have a choice presented to you at work, choose the option that doesn't involve someone with whom you have a personal relationship.
- If you're doing things together outside work, keep those calendar appointments private and limit how much you talk about your time together while you're at work.
- If you have a direct report with whom you are developing a friendship, seriously consider whether continuing with that reporting relationship is right in the long term. Will your judgment be clouded? Will you treat others in your team equally?
Everyone should be able to have friendships at work- it builds morale and boosts engagement and productivity (if not mismanaged!). After all, we spend a lot of time at work and should be getting some enjoyment out of it. But, as a leader, just remember that people watch every single thing you do and say and draw a conclusion from it. You can control those conclusions.