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The Do's and Don'ts of Workplace Friendships

Alexis Perrotta profile image

Alexis Perrotta

Friends taking a selfie

We spend a lot of time at work. How much is a lot? According to, “about one-third or 30 percent of human life is spent working.”

So, what are some things that make work, well, work?

Both Forbes and Small Business note that relationships with colleagues and office culture rank high on the list. Friendships, office banter, and coffee breaks fill us up with all the good feelings. But remember: while you’re busy keeping your workplace relationships fun and fulfilling, it's equally important to keep them professional.

Below, find easy-to-follow dos and don’ts for keeping things on the up and up with your office husbands, work wives, and cubicle compatriots.

Professional Friendships Tip 1: Be Inclusive

Be nice to the new kid! Make sure that your new colleague is on the invite list for office outings, happy hours, and the like. Starting a new job is kind of like the first day at a new school. Don't be the mean kid who says "Can't sit here." Yes, I know my Forrest Gump reference is perhaps a bit dated, but you get the idea.

And while a hybrid or fully-remote setup may make it seem harder to include new colleagues, it's also even more important that you find ways to include and invite them. Consider how hard it is to start at a new job, and then multiply that by working with a bunch of people who may have been together in an office for years prior to 2020. This is how it feels to start a new job remotely.

Professional Friendships Tip 2: Don't be a mean girl (or boy)

If you’re planning some out-of-the-office quality time with a handful of work besties, be sure that you're out of earshot of others while you're planning. Don't send event invites to a work email address when not all colleagues are invited, share photos on a work platform (group email, Slack, etc.), or bring up inside jokes about out-of-office events that involved some colleagues but not others.

Pro Tip: Don't hog the shared space! Everyone should feel comfortable having lunch in the kitchen, getting caffeinated by the coffee pot, or hanging out on the shared couch. So don't commandeer shared space for your gossip session.

Professional Friendships Tip 3: Connect on a deeper level

No need to restrict it to work-only chatter. Times have changed and many organizations are embracing a “whole-self workplace.” In other words, what you do while you're at work is only a small part of who you are. Don't be scared to share some of your personal story with co-workers. This will not only benefit your office relationships, it may benefit your work, as well. According to TED speaker Margaret Heffernan, “What drives [workplace] helpfulness is people getting to know each other.”

Professional Friendships Tip 4: Don't be a bummer

Conversing with colleagues only when you want to vent, particularly if you do it in a public space, gets old fast.

Another guaranteed way to be the least-liked person in the office? Gossip. While you may feel like you’re connecting in solidarity by complaining, you’re actually contributing to a toxic atmosphere and building faux-friendships.

In her “The Anatomy of Trust” Super Soul Session, scholar, author, and TED presenter Brené Brown notes that “many of us use [gossip] as a way to ‘hot wire’ a connection with a friend, but that intimacy isn’t real—it’s counterfeit trust.”

Alexis Perrotta profile image

Alexis Perrotta

As the Associate Director of Marketing and Communications at Idealist and a lifelong nonprofit professional, Alexis offers job seekers, game changers, and do gooders actionable tips, career resources, and social-impact advice.

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