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For HR professionals, workplace friendships can be tricky. Should you have friends at work?
"I feel isolated in my HR department of one," a peer told me. "But I can't make friends here—I'm afraid it will come across as wrong with the employees I don't make friends with."
She described the experience of a colleague at another organization who became close to a senior leader. "Because of their friendship, employees there questioned HR's objectivity in performance management debriefs and in other situations," she said.
It's important for you as an HR professional to make ties with people, getting them to trust, confide in and even like you (sometimes). Building and maintaining internal and external relationships, and helping employees navigate relationships within and outside of the workplace, are essential elements of the Relationship Management competency. After all, HR is about people. But it's also about Ethical Practice, the competency that includes maintaining confidentiality and avoiding bias.
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HR must consider organizational culture and business policies from the perspectives of both the organization and the employees. Finding that balance ensures that employees are treated with fairness and respect, that the organization succeeds, and that all parties avoid legal risk. As an HR professional who wants to have friends at work, you may be caught in a difficult position: You know that friendships increase engagement and stakeholder buy-in, but you're also aware that if employees think you're too close to "select" people, you—and the HR department—may no longer be viewed as impartial, fair and trustworthy.
Several blogs and articles raise the question of whether HR professionals should have workplace friendships. Their answers fall into four general categories:
Most articles lean toward "yes, with caution," but some convincingly argue "no."
My take on HR and friendships involves three factors:
So, what is the socially inclined HR professional to do? Here are three pieces of advice:
SHRM has resources on effective strategies for managing relationships as an HR professional under the Relationship Management competency.
Joe Jones, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, is director, HR competencies and resources research, at SHRM.
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