Are my work colleagues friends -- or are they foe?

  • Article by: MATT KRUMRIE , Star Tribune Sales and Marketing
  • Updated: October 3, 2011 - 9:43 AM

Dear Matt: A recent poll shows that over half would step in if a friend was under-performing at work and they could help. However, almost one in three would report their friend to the boss if their performance was detrimental to the team or if it helped them to get ahead. That being said, how can I trust my so-called work friends and people I have personal and professional relationships with in the workplace?

Dear Matt: A recent poll shows that over half would step in if a friend was under-performing at work and they could help. However, almost one in three would report their friend to the boss if their performance was detrimental to the team or if it helped them to get ahead. That being said, how can I trust my so-called work friends and people I have personal and professional relationships with in the workplace?

Matt says: Work relationships are much like personal relationships -- potentially rewarding, but also potentially frustrating and unpredictable, says Brad Lelemsis, a senior recruiter who works for a Minneapolis-based global manufacturing company. Your trust in your colleagues should be driven by a variety of factors, Lelemsis said, inlcuding:

Gut reaction. What is your honest emotional reaction to your work friends? How are they perceived at work by your boss, your peers, and their customers -- inside or outside the organization? What is the quality of their work?

Experience. What has been your actual experience interacting at or working with those friends? Have they been consistently honest and demonstrated integrity? How do they talk about others when they believe no one is listening? Common sense suggests that if a coworker is willing to talk about or spread rumors about another coworker or a boss, rest assured he or she will probably be willing to talk about you in a similar manner when you're not there.

Company culture. What sort of behavior is formally and informally reinforced a work? Is organizational backbiting and oneupmanship the order of the day? Are transparency and collaboration valued?

The job market. Desperate times, unfortunately, create and drive desperate measures in others. "People are generally very concerned about keeping their jobs; they are willing to go to great measures," said Lelemsis. "Depending on his or her perspective, your work friend may consider you less of colleague and more of an expendable pawn in their employment chess game."

Patrick Foss, president of ThinkTalent Human Capital Partners (thinktalent.net), said that people who feel getting ahead can be achieved by reporting or degrading others will eventually have their toxic ways exposed.

"Proximity does not define friendship; so-called work friends are co-workers. Friends are those you choose to socialize with outside of the workplace," Foss said. "Work hard, do the right thing and be honest -- the rest will take care of itself."

Matt Krumrie is a Twin Cities freelance writer specializing in career advice.

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