or most people, work takes up the majority of their waking hours. Whether you’re working a 9-to-5 or running your own business, your professional life can sometimes blend in with your personal one, especially when it comes to friendships in the workplace.
While it’s normal and natural for colleagues to form strong bonds, it’s important for leaders to encourage their staff members to forge appropriate and productive connections. Otherwise, they may let close personal relationships with their coworkers cloud their judgment or cause them to play favorites when it comes to working with the rest of the team.
Below, 11 members of Newsweek Expert Forum offered their best tips for leaders who want to encourage meaningful but appropriate relationships among their employees.
1. Communicate Forward Feedback
Team well-being and whole-person leadership are critical to support and elevate engagement. However, with emotional connection comes blurred lines. Have courageous conversations and set clear expectations, communicating forward feedback to reinforce healthy boundaries. – Britton Bloch, Navy Federal
2. Meet With Colleagues Consistently
You must be authentic in your interactions. Take the time to learn about and connect with them personally. Give more than you receive by assisting where you can, and it is possible to do so. It is incredible what can happen personally and professionally if you focus on others. – Matt Domo, FifthVantage
3. Be a Mediator
I have employees that sometimes need a little nudge to accept new hires. Playing the role of a mediator allows me to invite open and friendly relationships in the workplace. I also mention that they are spending as much time with their work-family as they do at home and encourage them to try to make it a happy experience or else they will end up hating their job. – Tammy Sons, Tn Nursery
4. Recognize Employee Strengths
A tip for leaders is to recognize their employee’s strengths and how they put them into practice. Start by reviewing shared values and strengths. One employee might say that they are “determined” and they put the strength into practice by knowing when to say no. Another employee might say that their strength is “self-control” and they can recognize when they are triggered by a co-worker’s actions. – Barbara Rubel, Griefwork Center, Inc.
5. Separate Friendships and Professional Relationships
Separate friendships and professional relationships. I’ve personally experienced employees who have struggled with identifying the difference between the two. I think leading by example and communicating with your team about workplace expectations is always a good start. – Mo Ghoneim, Arts Help
6. Create Social Functions
Facilitate social functions for your employees. Create an event that could be a little more informal, but exactly what they would be interested in doing. Whether it be a happy hour, karaoke night, golf putting—whatever. Come to the event, pay for everything, buy lunch and rounds of drinks—and then make an exit early. This will break down barriers and help them connect more honestly. – Chris Tompkins, The Go! Agency
7. Make an Effort
Making an effort to find out more about your colleagues’ personal life and backgrounds will give you a better understanding of their value system and why they think the way they do. This also helps with how to approach and better collaborate with them on projects. – Matt Drayton, Drayton Communications LLC
8. Support Your Team
Create a team where support is a virtue and an expectation. Why? Because small and unexpected acts of kindness can become building blocks of virtual relationships. A good way is to encourage employees to check in with each other and ask how their colleagues are feeling and how their day is going. If a person notices a coworker has a large workload, one can offer to help them complete some tasks. – Inga Arianna Bielinska, Inga Arianna Bielinska
9. Be Open About Boundaries
Boundaries are important in any relationship—even close friendships and romantic partnerships—to ensure both parties feel respected. Just because employees are seeing your house behind you on Zoom calls does not mean they’re entitled to know personal details you aren’t comfortable sharing or to ask inappropriate questions. Be open but kind about your boundaries, and be sensitive to others’ needs. – April Margulies, Trust Relations
10. Wear Different Hats
Whenever I find roles blending—personal or professional, participant or facilitator, etc., I announce what hat I’m wearing as I speak or share an opinion. This way they will know what angle I’m coming from. If I’m facilitating a group of people and have a personal opinion to share, I will tell the group, “I’d like to share a personal opinion so I’m taking off my facilitator hat now.” – Reed Deshler, AlignOrg Solutions
11. Create a Safe Environment
Everyone will be different, both in terms of how much they wish to share about their personal lives and when. Some will be happy to share one to one, some in a group and some not at all. Some will be happy to discuss personal life while others only their work life. Pressuring everyone to “open up” can be counterproductive. It’s about creating an environment where people feel safe and not pressured. – Chris Roebuck, Simply Success