If there is one lesson you need to understand immediately as you enter the workforce, it is this: your coworkers are not your friends.
It would be best if you always were cordial and friendly with your coworkers, and you can make friends with the people you see daily at work. But the blanket statement is always at play when it comes to any possible office-related issues. Your coworkers are not your friends.
What does that mean? Much of the non-friendship relations comes from just how much you know about the people at work. Over time, you will find pockets of conversation that will flesh out your coworkers to real people, but some subjects can open up potential trapdoors for you to fall in when you are least expecting.
Unless they are legitimately your friends, then you can talk about anything you feel like if you take that conversation out and away from the office.
We already don’t talk about general politics and religion with strangers to be civil in the current state of affairs. When we get to discussions between coworkers, an extreme taboo is to go deep into talk about money. This means not talking about your salary, not talking about your debt, and not talking about your savings. And while it makes for interesting conversation, limit your talk of the high-cost hobbies and how much you spend on them.
Limit your talk about your relationships. This can be a trigger of stress for people who do not share your good fortune or a source of chatter for those who deem themselves more fortunate for whatever reason.
Don’t talk about people’s drama, even if the company culture is all about gossip and rumors. While this may not get you invited into many of the side chats that turn out to be where all the inside knowledge comes from, your reputation for staying out of the muck will get you invited to more of the quiet conversations where real ideas are shared, and real decisions are made.
And should you feel the urge to get extra friendly with a coworker, as a manager, peer, or subordinate, understand the rules about personal relationships at your office. This goes beyond simply hanging out after hours into dating and possibly mating relationships. HR should have a policy in place for fraternization among people of different rank and standing, mostly to protect the company from shenanigans, but hopefully as real guidance to protect all involved should a relationship sour or blossom, leading to a needed change in office structure. As far as peers go, this will, in most cases, be unwritten rules of engagement beyond the general policies for harassment and discrimination.
The important takeaway is that you have to be vigilant with this. You may work in a fun and creative workspace, but it is not a club or playground. Your coworkers are not your friends and probably wouldn’t be there with you if offered a more fun place to be in exchange. And the friends you do make at work come with some trade-offs that are usually worth it. Until they are not.
Do you think you can afford to be friendly with coworkers? Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and give your take.