Should HR pros avoid making friends at work?

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For HR professionals, making friends at work can be fraught with complexity, which is why it might be prudent to avoid happy hours after work and play it safe by keeping to yourself. After all, it can be hard to enjoy a drink with a colleague whose performance is under review or who is part of an ongoing HR investigation.

Toronto Training and HR Inc founder Timothy Holden says when HR get too close to some staff they court allegations of discrimination and favouritism. Where harsh decisions – such as lay-offs – have had to be made, he has seen how personal friendships forged between the HR professional and the affected staff have precluded employers from acting unfairly.

Clearly it’s harder for HR to discipline staff if they are friends and have personal knowledge of them, but, it can also be difficult for HR professionals to tread the fine line between collegiality and professionalism.

Another issue that can arise is perceived favouritism. If other staff feel they are being treated less favourably than those who are friendly with HR, it can have a negative impact on the work atmosphere.

“Teamwork may become more difficult, grievances may be generated and bad behaviour may become the norm,” says Holden. “This could impact on absenteeism, staff turnover rates and customer service.”

Mitigate the risks:

  1. Be consistent and always act with integrity – never reveal confidential company information to your workplace friends, even if you feel that they would benefit from this knowledge
  2. Join professional networks to meet professionals from other organisations so that you can discuss and workshop work-related issues in a confidential environment with professional peers – or post discussion items on the HRM Online forum
  3. Establish ground rules and stick to them – explain to work friends from the outset that circumstances may arise in the future in which you will need to act in the best interests of the company
  4. Be transparent – always disclose potential conflicts of interests to your manager
  5. If you do attend after-work functions, avoid gossip and stay away from the punch bowl
  6. Choose your work friends wisely – at the very least, wait until your potential friends have passed their probation period
  • S.E. on 2013-12-05 8:42:19 AM

    This is the reality of working in HR, don't make the mistake of mixing business with pleasure the outcome can be very distructive to your career. Not even in your offices, business is business and personal should be kept separate at all times.

  • alberto sebastian on 2013-12-08 11:20:24 AM

    Perception is everything. There is no true need to mix your personal world with your professional world; why blur the lines. This article in on point. Never mix business with pleasure as it's usually risky.

  • Anna on 2015-08-10 12:38:15 PM

    Being transparent and honest is the key. You are protecting not only yourself but the person reporting to you or to HR. Everyone should be treated fairly and based on their merit and what they bring to the company. As an employee I want a promotion based on my abilities not who I am friends with. I know that sometimes it can be perceived as being stand offish but keeping your distance as an HR professional is best for everyone.

  • Nancy Olson on 2015-08-12 7:41:50 AM

    Never risk your professional world by making friends at workplace.

  • Nancy Olson on 2015-08-12 7:44:38 AM

    Never risk your professional world by making friends at workplace.

  • Kellie on 2015-08-07 3:40:33 PM

    My comment used to be - be friendly to the employees but don't be their friend. I agree with the comments above - it's the reality of the work we do.

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