Given the amount of time we spend at work, relationships are bound to form.

Executive Brief:

  • Become too close to your colleagues can lead to:
  • Competitiveness and resentment
  • Being unfairly associated with a slacking colleague
  • Getting stuck in a perpetual negative cycle

  • And that’s a good thing. Having friends at work can increase job satisfaction, performance and productivity, research shows.

    But you might want to avoid becoming too close with your colleagues.

    “You don’t need to be best buds,” said Amy Cooper Hakim, an industrial-organizational psychology practitioner and workplace expert. “You want to be kind, professional and nice. But we don’t need to tell every person at work our deep dark secrets, and long-term goals and dreams.”

    Friends vs. friendly

    We often refer to people we are friendly with at work as “friends,” but there’s a difference. While being social can help boost morale and happiness on the job, you need to set boundaries.

    Instead of striving for friendships at work, it’s better to stay friendly with coworkers, Hakim noted.

    “Stick with kind and professional relationships, you can grab coffee or lunch, but not necessarily invite them home for a barbecue or special family events,” she said.

    Oversharing about details of your personal life and finances can come back to haunt you. For instance, a simple conversation about house hunting can lead to you mentioning your budget and create tension during bonus and raise season.

    “There is always a level competitiveness when it comes to income and jobs,” said Hakim.

    The crowded career ladder

    Many companies are hierarchical, and when it comes to promotions or project assignments, close friendships can sometimes cause friction.

    You don’t want to feel bad about competing and winning a promotion. But when one person in a friendship gets promoted, the dynamic changes.

    “That person might be more resentful and it could have negative implications on performance. It can strain a relationship,” said Hakim.

    If this happens, sit down and reassess the relationship and set new boundaries.

    “There is fluidity to any relationship and as a relationship changes, it’s important to renegotiate or re-discuss some parameters,” said Hakim

    Sharing personal details with a colleague who you thought had your back can also damage your career prospects if those details are used against you.

    For instance, if you vented to a coworker that you weren’t happy in your current position and are looking for a new job, and then get a promotion over your friend and decide to stay, it can lead to resentment and frustration.

    “When people we were friends with become higher or lower than us, that creates issues with how open, transparent and authentic we are,” said Miriam Kirmayer, a therapist and friendship researcher.

    Friendships at work get even trickier for managers and their subordinates. You don’t want to make it seem like you are giving one person an advantage or a pass for bad behavior.

    “Be friendly with your direct reports, build trust and respect,” said Vicki Salemi,’s career expert. “It’s a two-way street: Let them feel appreciated, but you also don’t want them to know too much information.”

    You are the company you keep

    Being considered too close with a coworker can reflect negatively on you if your friend isn’t viewed in high regards.

    “The friend you click with, they might not be a top performer and then all of a sudden you are associated with it. You want to be aware of that,” said Salemi.

    It can also hurt your assignment and project prospects, or prevent you from being included on confidential news if your peers fear it might be leaked to an untrusted colleague.

    Getting stuck in a negative cycle

    Friends are good outlets to vent to, but when it’s a work friend on the receiving end, you run the risk of getting stuck in a negative cycle.

    “Co-ruminating can happen,” said Kirmayer. “It’s the process by which friends repeatedly go over a difficult event or emotion. It brings us together and increases friendship satisfaction, but also decreases well being, kicks up a level of depression and anxiety. You need to watch out for that.”