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How To End A Work Friendship

Source | FastCompany : By RICH BELLIS

Businesses are starting to clue into what every kid who’s ever frequented a playground knows well: Daily life is easier when you’ve got friends around.

“When colleagues can traverse acquaintance status and move into the friend realm,” leadership consultant Jessica Amortegui wrote for Fast Company last year, “their motivation deepens. A halfhearted effort means much more than a dissatisfied customer or disappointed manager. It means letting down a friend.” And not only do work friends make us more productive and motivated, there’s growing research to suggest they’re also crucial for our happiness and well-being.

Sometimes though, your work friendship may have run its course and you need to find a way to end it. The reasons why can vary, from moving to a management position, to interests or lifestyles that grow apart. But whatever the reason, here’s what you need to consider if you’re trying to dump a work friend.


For all the experimentation around flat organizations, the truth is that the vast majority of employees have bosses. No matter how chummy you are with yours, there’s a power dynamic there. And power dynamics generally aren’t great for friendships.

Workplace friendships “can become problematic if one employee is in a supervisory position over the other,” says Nannina Angioni, a labor and employment attorney with the Los Angeles–based law firm Kaedian LLP. “When colleagues are seen as too close for a professional relationship, it can create animosity among a team at the low end, or possibly expose the employers to an employment claim on the more extreme end.”

There are other reasons, of course, to want to end a work friendship than either the appearance or the actual likelihood of favoritism (or any other type of wrongdoing), but she has a point: Some bosses will ask or pressure you to do unethical things, and cite your friendship as the reason why you should comply.

“The process for changing this sort of relationship dynamic can be tricky,” Angioni concedes, but if you need to pull back from a friendship where you’re on the low end of a power differential, “the best place to start is to always default to your employment obligations.” As John Rampton, founder of Due (an online invoicing company) has pointed out, “success at the expense of your integrity” is one thing you definitely don’t owe your boss, and it’s a perfectly reasonable place to draw the line—without sounding accusatory.

“Listen, I know we’re friends,” you can say, “but this could really jeopardize that promotion you know I’ve been gunning for. You understand, right?” If they don’t, well, that’s what HR departments and, ultimately, attorneys like Angioni are there for.

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