Friendships at work make challenges less stressful and a tough day more enjoyable, but they can lead to trouble when loyalty to the friend trumps duty to the company.
Workplace friendships improve employee engagement, especially among women, and millennials say they are happier, more motivated, and more productive when they have work friends. After many years of working alongside each other and sharing life events—kids, marriages, health issues, food—friendships deepen and coworkers can become like family.
But what if your friend is doing work that isn’t up to standard, or worse, is exhibiting deliberately dishonest behavior? That is a huge problem!
“If you choose friends who have the same work ethics as you, it’s easy to separate work issues when they occur,” says Emy Yamauchi-Wong, Manager at ALTRES Staffing. “A real friend would never ask you to do something you both know is wrong or that would get you into trouble.”
However, not every situation is black and white and covering for a friend can be a slippery slope. Perhaps it starts with doing a simple favor but leads to unintended consequences, like sabotaging your own professional reputation.
So when is it appropriate to cover for a coworker and friend?
Do’s and don’ts of balancing friendships and responsibility at work
DO help your work friend if their problem is relatively minor or an honest, first time error.
Mistakes happen, no matter how long you have been on the job or at a company, and sometimes a little help from your friends is really all it takes. Definitely be there to help, serve as a sounding board, and give advice. Together, you can also address what went wrong and figure out how to prevent it in the future. Address the issue according to proper protocols and move on.
DO NOT accept the blame when a colleague repeatedly screws up.
Helping a colleague fix a mistake is one thing, taking the blame for something which is not your fault is another. This is your professional reputation at stake. And your good buddy may come to depend on you covering for them! Not only do you look bad, but resentment can grow like a cancer, impacting many areas of business and life. Try addressing the problem with your coworker, but be upfront about the fact that you will not allow your supervisor to think that you are the one that messed up.
DO jump in if there is something that needs to happen now.
If your coworker is a no show for something that needs to be done, like a client tour, or project update, you may have to take the reins. Obviously you’ll be put on the spot in a situation that you may not be fully prepared for, which is stressful and unpleasant. In this situation, you’ll want to follow up with your coworker to let them know it’s not okay. For example, “Hey, when you were late to the meeting, I had to give the progress report and I didn’t have all the numbers. What happened?”
DO NOT take part in unethical or illegal behavior.
This should be a no-brainer. If your coworker (and soon-to-be former friend) asks you to tell people he’s at a lunch meeting when you know he’s off interviewing for a new job—just don’t. You have to tell him you’re not comfortable with that, and that if anyone asks, the most you can say is that he didn’t update you on his schedule today.
DO NOT under any circumstances cover for incompetence that compromises the bottom line.
That “friend” who is so unaccommodating and unresponsive to prospective clients that the prospect went with another business? Not a friend you need at work. Covering for them not only hurts the company, it also hurts your own prospects for continued and future employment. You have to be honest with that person and company leadership about what went wrong.
DO protect yourself.
Sometimes a work friend or colleague not doing their part may be an ongoing issue. Make sure your other coworkers and bosses can see your work shine. Make sure your contribution is visible, by taking credit for the work you do. Take the lead on presentations, or pursue new initiatives and you will be seen as the capable contributor that you are.
Work friendships benefit individuals at every level of a company, engaging employees and making the days more enjoyable. With a little self-awareness you and your team can avoid pitfalls and work together harmoniously. In the workplace, that’s what friends are for!