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Personal or Professional: Where to Draw the Line?


All offices have cliques. In every office there is a manager who wants to be the employee's friend (or vice versa). And in every office there must be a line drawn in the sand between personal and professional relationships.


You spend so much time at work, it’s almost impossible not to blur the line of coworker and friend, but how can you remain professional at work and friendly outside work? I’m sure there is a very corporate answer to this question, but there is much more that goes on in an office to define the line for every person.


The mean girls.


There is a Regina George in every crowd and you have probably experienced her in one way or another in the office. You are either a mean girl right along with her, or you’re getting the raw end of the deal. Wherever you fall, no-one wins.


This goes double if you’re the new employee. Be cautious about who you spend time with as a new employee; everyone is nice to the newbies. Better to be open minded and avoid committing to a “clique” before you establish boundaries and find out who you could see yourself being friends with outside of work. You are who you associate with. To your other coworkers and even management, the mean girl clique can be hard to shake.


If you are more of an outsider, the Janis or Damian at work, it might not make for a chummy work environment, but it may incite you to work harder. You will have fewer distractions and you will avoid any clique clichés. Pick your poison.  


Friends or Frenemies...


There are situations where managers and employees can be friendly and have a personal relationship. It helps create a company culture where employees and managers have an open-door policy and can greatly benefit the company.


There is a time and place to be friends and it’s not between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. You must leave your emotional issues and personal stories at the door. Whether you work closely together or barely see each other in the office, you have to remain professional at work and cannot let your personal feelings about someone get in the way of your job or theirs.


If you are a social butterfly in your personal life, it may be hard to control in a professional environment. You want to be yourself and you want to be friends with your coworkers. There’s nothing wrong with that. Creating a positive company culture relies heavily on how well your employees mesh and it’s most beneficial when we all just get along.


However, sometimes you meet a manager or coworker who hasn’t quite figured out where the line is between their professional and personal relationships with others in the office. They might try a little too hard to be friends, but come off more inquisitive and inappropriate than friendly. You are put in an uncomfortable situation because you still work together and don’t want to create a dynamic where you feel like your next evaluation is going to be compromised.


Address the issue head on.


Be open (and brave). Communicate your issues with your coworker or manager. The majority of the time, these problems arise from a misunderstanding or miscommunication somewhere along the line and can be resolved by just talking to each other about their concerns. If the problem continues, it might be time to get everything down on record.


HR is not always our favorite person, but they are good mediators. It’s their job to a be a neutral party for any problems at work. Addressing the issues with HR will allow both sides to get their stories and feelings out in the open so you can create a strategy of how to move forward.


Unless you are following very strict corporate guidelines for being friends and coworkers, it will be a balancing game for both parties involved. There is no rule anywhere that says coworkers and managers can’t be friends, just make sure your personal relationship doesn’t affect your work.


Whether you’re a veteran or new employee, navigating any workplace culture will take time. Trust your instincts and don’t be quick to join just any clique. Take some time to evaluate your workload and how much time you will have to dedicate to your new friends, your coworkers and managers, and figure out where you fit in.

Last Updated: March 9, 2016
About the author

Cally Martin

Callan is a social media loving, blog writing, event planning freelancer who believes in the power of the oxford comma. Originally from America’s high-five (Michigan), she’s been in Austin since 2015 and doesn’t plan on moving anytime soon. When not attached to WiFi, she can be found running around the lake or drinking mimosas at brunch.