can you have close work friendships when you’re in HR?

A reader writes:

I work at a company with a large number of employees under the age of 30 (myself included), and because of that, there’s a very social atmosphere. I’ve become quite close with a woman in a difficult department (let’s call her Linda) who is very fun to be around but will often incessantly talk about work. Because I work in HR, it often puts me in a precarious position and I’ve learned to just nod my head and listen to her complain.

Linda’s boss recently resigned and left quite a bit of uncertainty for that department, which was already in a state of turmoil. Because Linda was a high-potential employee (and someone made the mistake of telling her that), she took it as an indication that she was now in a position of power to negotiate a salary increase and promotion, because the department wouldn’t want her to resign as well. She talked quite a bit outside of work about this situation, with me mostly nodding and listening, and I always stayed impartial. I did try to give her some advice on how to go about asking for the raise so as not to sound aggressive or demanding, so she didn’t end up shooting herself in the foot. Linda told me the amount she was going to ask for, which was way above what her job was worth, and I told her, as a friend and without invoking any specifics of company, that she could certainly ask for it but it was unlikely she’d get that much of a raise.

About two weeks later, Linda’s promotion goes through (with a salary much more appropriate for her role), and I get called in to my boss’s office. Turns out that Linda told the VP of her department that I had told her (Linda mentioned me by name) that she was going to get $3k more than what she received. I did no such thing, nor did I ever indicate an exact number, I just told her that what she was asking for was unreasonable. It caused a huge headache, and made me look bad not only to my boss but also to that VP. I thought about my options and determined that I really couldn’t say anything to Linda – the conversation was had in confidence with the VP, and if word got out that she had talked to HR, it would likely make it even more difficult to find out what was really going on with that group in the future. So I moved on and learned my lesson to keep my mouth shut in the future (and did my best to subtly distance myself from someone who was clearly not a friend).

I’m curious – what would your approach to this situation have been?

Yeah, you can’t have these kinds of friendships when you’re in HR.

That’s part of the deal when you work in HR. It doesn’t matter if you just sit and nod while your coworker complains about salary — in their eyes, that can come across as “Lavinia thinks that I’m justified in being upset about my salary.” And that can be seen as you speaking for the company, or at least using your official knowledge to inform your response as a friend, whether you intend it that way or not. It doesn’t matter if you explicitly tell them that that’s not the case; too many people will assume it is anyway.

I get that there’s a bunch of people under 30 there and it’s a social atmosphere. But you have to have more boundaries than everyone else. Frankly, it’s possible/likely that they all need better boundaries too, but you in particular really need them because you’re in HR. You need to be able to recommend that some of those people be fired or laid off (and to be able to do the actual laying off if it comes to that), you need to be seen as impartial, you need people to believe that you handle confidential information discreetly (which is harder when you are known to have close outside-of-work friendships with some coworkers), and you need people to believe that your friendships don’t play a role in sensitive company decisions, from raises to discipline to layoffs to how allegations of harassment or discrimination are handled (the latter being particularly tricky, since people may not even want to report incidents to you if you’re known to be close to the harasser).

You can be friendly, yes. Warm and collegial, yes. But outside-of-work friendships? Not unless you’re extremely careful about navigating the boundaries, which definitely doesn’t include a coworker talking to you “quite a bit outside of work” about her raise strategy.

Your job is to represent the company. That doesn’t turn off when you’re with coworkers, even when you’re outside work. It kind of sucks, but it’s an inherent part of the gig.

{ 77 comments… read them below }

  1. Katie the Fed

    Oooh yeah, this is a tough one.

    Thing you have to remember is people in emotionally-charged work situations, like raises and disciplinary actions, will reach for any straw they have. And that might include throwing their former friends under the bus without a second thought. This is true of management too – I’ve seen it blow up in managers’ faces because when it comes down to it, they represent the company and many people won’t hesitate to use that.

    1. AMG

      Which is why you would be justified in distancing yourself in a not-so-subtle manner. No need to be unprofessional–just clear.

      1. Katie the Fed

        Yep. I was buddies with members of my team before I became their manager. I’ve made it clear that I can’t do things like come over to play Cards Against Humanity (oh, the deposition would be amazing) and other things I would have previously done when we were peers. It’s just not the same relationship.

        1. KJR

          Off topic here, but I played Cards Against Humanity for the first time with some of my husband’s co-workers whom I had only met once before. Awkward yet hilarious! And may I add that I won?

        2. Deb

          Cards Against Humanity can be awkward can’t it? My BF is the HR manager for his company, and on a recent family camping trip, his dad (who works at the same company) invited another coworker. And his sister busts out CaH. Very Awkward between the family and the coworkers present.

  2. BRR

    I’m not sure you can call Linda a friend anymore. She really threw you under the bus.

    In the future if you chose to have outside of work friendships with coworkers you’re going to need to develop a near zero tolerance policy on discussing work matters.

    1. BOMA

      Yeah I’m not a fan of the way Linda handled things either. If you do continue to have friendships outside of work with your coworkers, it might be best to have a blanket policy of “I do not discuss work issues outside of work”. I think if you explain it the right way to people, they’ll understand where you’re coming from.

    2. Chuchundra

      Yeah, that was the first thing I thought of as well.

      Whether you can be friends with other people in the company is a question open for debate but whether you can be friends with Linda isn’t up for debate because she’s obviously not your friend.

      1. AnonyMouse

        Agreed. The question of whether people in HR can be friends with coworkers is definitely debatable, but I wouldn’t really advise anyone who works at the OP’s company, HR or not, to befriend Linda.

  3. some1

    Fwiw, I’ve never worked in HR and I’ve had coworkers who I thought were my friends sell me out, too. I just think you are more vulnerable to it if you’re in HR or or mgmt. I had to learn the hard way that work friendships can do a 180 on a dime.

  4. JP

    I think it’s worth mentioning that telling a high potential employee that they have high potential is not a mistake (as the letter writer suggests), but something any strong Manager will do. Managing career and salary expectations realistically does not require masking your appreciation for high performers.

    1. Colette

      There’s a difference between high performers and high potential, and the difference is the results (or lack of them) that that employee has delivered. I don’t see what value there is in telling someone they have high potential, because unless they use that potential, it’s irrelevant.

        1. Colette

          I could see that, if it’s done in conjunction with a specific opportunity – i.e. “I know this is outside what you’ve done before, but I think you would be great at it because X, Y, and Z”. If it’s just a general statement, I could see a significant number of people interpreting it the way Linda did – i.e. a position of power.

      1. Jamie =^_^= (in lieu of avatar)

        That same comment bothered me, too. I think it’s important to tell people when you see potential, because I’ve come across so many people who for whatever reason don’t see their own. Honestly, I’ve offered people opportunities on projects where they were shocked anyone thought of them for X and then did a great job.

        I don’t know how to say this without making myself sound like an ass, so I’ll just be an ass…but some people like me know exactly how smart and talented we think we are within our wheelhouse. Not that we can do everything, but some people come with a fair bit of, what we’ll call intellectual arrogance for lack of a better word. Because history has taught that you can learn what you need to and achievements come down more to how badly you want it and how hard you work rather than ability. A lifetime of people assuming you’re smart and capable creates a confidence in those areas which lead you use your potential when you want something. And if you aren’t kicking into high gear it’s a deliberate choice.

        But I was astounded when I started managing how many people are really surprised to find out you see more potential in them than they see in themselves. Shocked. Some people don’t go after things because they assume people will laugh at them for reaching above their level, some very talented people have some significant insecurities which will cause them to put a cap on their own potential because they can’t see it.

        It’s really gratifying when you know someone will be great at something, they want to but are overwhelmed because they never thought they’d have the chance and then they master it and you can see the professional growth almost before your eyes.

        Case in point – had specific and crucial task as part of a large project and I called out a specific operator and had her managers pull her off the line and we had a meeting. I asked her to head this up, told the managers to get her two people to follow her directions but she was in charge. I didn’t do this for her, she was clearly the best at organizing, I’ve seen the way she tracks stuff and I needed someone reliable and ridiculously organized. She didn’t even know I knew her name – but from audits she was the only one I wanted. She was so happy and yeah, shocked. If I had asked who would head this up I know whose hands would have shot up and it wouldn’t have been her. She would never have asked for even a small leadership role like this.

        She’s all over it, getting me what I need…coming to me with ideas about how to improve something else which is an issue for me and she’s going to be a huge help there – she doesn’t need micromanaging or hand-holding. She’s really shining in this – and her potential was all over the place, but she didn’t see it until I pointed it out.

        I’ve seen this at all levels – pointing it out can be helpful like you wouldn’t believe to the people who need it pointed out. The people who don’t already know, no harm no foul.

        1. Colette

          I certainly agree that it’s valuable to tell people what you see in them that they can’t see, and that is potential.

          I think what I’m struggling with is that this situation (told they have potential, immediately asks for a raise) seems like something heard out of context. If someone came up to me and said “you have potential”, I’d be wondering what they were trying to scam me into doing. If it were part of an overall conversation (I.e. “I think you’d be good at X, give it some thought”) it would be different.

          1. Jamie =^_^= (in lieu of avatar)

            I agree – and I’ve never used the word potential to anyone…feels too grade school report card to me. But letting someone know I think they might be good at X and offering them an opportunity is exactly what I meant.

    2. blu

      I suspect that what she actually means is that high potential is a specific HR/Management designation and not that the person was high potential in the more general sense. My old company had a designation like this that was used among management to identify people to keep an eye on/identify for management training programs etc from an all cross-org/global/high level perspective. That doesn’t mean that if you didn’t have that designation that you couldn’t still move up or be successful. The list was just one of several tools that management used to try to identify, attract, and retain talented people.

      1. blu

        Also it wasn’t just about the particular individual. If for example, you notice that lot of the high potential people seem to be in a particular org or management group, you might look to see what they are doing well to attract/identify/retain those people.

    3. Karowen

      Maybe the OP meant that it was a mistake in retrospect? Not that no high-potential employee should ever be told this, but just that Linda happened to use it in a less than desirable way so if she could go back an time and stop the person from saying it she would.

      I obviously have no way of knowing the OP’s intentions, but that’s what I took it to mean.

      1. Mallory+Janis+Ian

        This is how I took the comment, as well. Probably because I work with someone who, although she does have a lot of potential to accomplish work above her level, becomes completely insufferable when complimented (bragging, bringing it up to anyone who will listen, and thinking that she needs to be given a promotion/raise almost immediately after any compliment).

  5. some1

    One more point: I guess/hope the boss and the VP know Linda is full of it. Salary would never be up to HR, except for something like the govt where it’s all pre-determined.

      1. grasshopper

        I agree; salary can often be up to HR. HR can set the salary bands and ensure that comparable positions and responsibilities have similar salary ranges. HR should also be reviewing salaries to make sure the there is equity (even if there is not equality).

          1. Jazzy Red

            That doesn’t always follow. In some companies, HR has way too much authority. On my old job, my boss pushed for my raise, but the People Division (HR) nixed it. (That was the last straw for me, and I found a better job at another company, with a higher starting pay and benefits that kicked in on my start date.)

    1. Mallory+Janis+Ian

      I don’t think the issue is necessarily whether HR is responsible for determining the salary, but that the OP has been cast, by Linda, as lacking discretion in speaking with coworkers.

    2. INTP

      If I were the VP or manager I wouldn’t assume that the OP had guaranteed a specific number, but I might be suspicious that he or she had shared other inappropriate information about salaries in the company to help Linda negotiate. OP gives Linda the official salary ranges, salaries of others in the position she has been promoted to, the formula to determine the highest possible raise, or something like that, Linda assumes that as a strong performer she will receive a salary in the higher end of what is possible, and by the time the negotiations take place she’s thinking of it as a guarantee. That’s a plausible situation and might even seem more likely than an outright lie if you don’t already know Linda as the type of person to lie through her teeth and throw her friends under the bus.

  6. Gina

    Linda reminds me of the man who claimed the manager told him to climb the fence. she’d say anything to get her way. Theworst part is you can’t really avoid it because both of them would have lied no matter what you said or didn’t say.

    1. The IT Manager

      I noticed this too. I would say remember that Linda may not have been lying on purpose to throw her LW under the bus. She very likely interpretted the silent nods as complete and utter agreement with her.

      1. Mephyle

        And yet she convinced herself so thoroughly she came up with the 3k figure, when OP says she didn’t mention any numbers. I don’t think this rules out the ‘wishful thinking’ explanation, though; people are quite capable of inventing details and believing in them.

        1. Chriama

          I assumed that the “3K more” means that Linda asked for 3K more than she got, and because she’d discussed the number with OP she assumed she had OP’s approval or agreement that it was likely to happen.

          1. Elsajeni

            Or that she said something like, “Well, I’ll ask for X, but they’ll probably end up giving me [3k more than she actually got],” and (again) interpreted the OP’s silence as meaning “Yep, that sounds right.”

      2. Lynn Whitehat

        I think that’s common in a lot of contexts. People smile and nod while someone rants because it’s not worth arguing about at the time (especially if it’s a social context), and that gets translated to “everyone agrees with me”.

  7. So true

    This is a very important lesson for anyone in HR. An employee who is friends with you outside of work will view that friendship from 2 slightly different perspectives. One is that as a friend they will want to share things with you and because you work at the same company, work will inevitably be a big part of the conversation. Especially when turmoil is happening. The second is that knowing you are in HR means they know you have access to information they don’t have, most also understand that confidentiality is huge for people who work in HR. So, even when you are being careful, everything you say, don’t say, every facial expression will be read through the lens of the other person. They won’t see telling someone else what they *thought* you said as a betrayal of confidence because the confidentiality thing is the HR Pros area of responsibility. They will assume that a smile, nod, certain facial expression at your ruminations about salary increases and promotions is verification that what they said is accurate. And since confidentiality is your responsibility, in their viewpoint, anything the derive from your interactions will be considered fair play to use.

    And this is why HR pros need to be super careful when interacting with others at work, and with others we work with outside of work. And the spouses, friends etc. of people we work with. And Most HR Pros I know have learned this lesson the hard way. Pretty much every single one, because we are as human as the people we work with.

    1. Artemesia

      I worked in a place where people had friendships across boundaries but were very frank about work discussion being off limits. In the OP’s case only bad things can come from given the appearance of coaching someone in their raise request in this setting. It is really hard to get the stink off your shoes once you have stepped in it even when you don’t think you have crossed the boundary.

        1. MK

          When the HR person works for the same company, it won’t be taken as “general advice”. It will be assumed that, while you mention no names or other specifics, your advice is informed by inside knowledge and about the specific situation.

          1. Joey

            We have different definitions of general. General advice is based on trends which is usually more likely to be applicable.

            1. MK

              It’s not about definitions, it’s about how your input is perceived by your audience. If you are HR and you tell a co-worker “I think generally employees in X position make Y salary” or “In our industry people in X position are promoted in Y amount of years”, the co-worker is very likely to think that you are talking about them and their specific situation and are just phrasing it vaguely out of discretion.

    2. Another Job Seeker

      I hope that my comments below do not come across as arrogant. I’m really not trying to be arrogant, but I have very strong feelings about friendship and loyalty. So I apologize in advance if I offend someone; that is not my intention.

      “They won’t see telling someone else what they *thought* you said as a betrayal of confidence because the confidentiality thing is the HR Pros area of responsibility.”

      I actually think that the statement above is true in a lot of cases, but not all. I have a friend named *”Michael” who works in HR where I work. I would never repeat anything that *”Michael” says to me about work. If it applied to me, I would act on it, and if it helped me in my career, that’s great. However, telling others about our conversations (to me) is an example of a betrayal of confidence. I would not want to further my career at the expense of his. That’s actually quite selfish. And not the definition of a true friend. I would not enjoy the resulting “perks” (raise, more responsibility, promotion, etc.) if I acquired them that way. That said, I do believe that quite a few people would do exactly what Linda did. It is important for people in HR (and those in leadership and managerial positions) to be careful about the people that they trust. We all need to use wisdom as we decide what to share with others. I think that is especially true for co-workers.

      * Name and situation were slightly changed to keep this anonymous.

  8. Anonasaurus Rex

    I have a very close friend who works in HR in my company and it’s really quite simple. We don’t talk much about work, outside of the basic stuff that we both know is going on and that is public (within the company) knowledge. Honestly, we’re friends and the last thing we want to talk about when we go out for lunch or go shopping on the weekend, is work.

    Linda was not the friend you thought she was because she put y

    1. Anonasaurus Rex

      Sorry that last sentence got cut off on my phone!

      Linda was not the friend you thought she was because she put you in a bad situation with your boss and your company. I think she was using you.

    2. OhNo

      That whole work/friends delineation is so important in cases like this. My personal philosophy (which has worked okay so far) is to ask myself: are they a coworker first, or a friend first? And the easiest way to answer that is: what do you guys talk about most of the time? If you talk about work most of the time, then you are probably coworkers first. If you talk about life outside of work most of the time, then you are more likely to be friends first.

      Plus, OP, a real friend would never bring you up in that kind of conversation without clearing it by you first – or if they did on accident, they would have told you that they did after or at least apologize for getting you in trouble. From the way you describe these interactions, it sounds less like you guys were friends and more like she was using you to get a leg up. Either way, it’s extremely unfortunate and I’m sorry it turned out the way it did.

      1. some1

        , OP, a real friend would never bring you up in that kind of conversation without clearing it by you first – or if they did on accident, they would have told you that they did after or at least apologize for getting you in trouble

        Totally!

    3. tj

      +1. I couldn’t agree with you more. I recently transitioned to HR and it was interesting to see how work buddies started to treat me. I would hear smart comments and have to walk away in order to re frame from saying anything back that would make me appear unprofessional or reflect negatively on the company . I’ve learned to keep it friendly, cordial and professional at all times. Remember you are representing the company now.

    4. AnonyMouse

      Yes, I personally think HR people can be friends with coworkers, but it takes mature people and firm boundaries about talking shop to make those friendships work. It sounds like you and your friend are pulling it off well – the situation in the post, maybe, not so much.

      Although even the most mature and careful HR/coworker friendships will need to be aware of the possibility that others in the company will, rightly or wrongly, perceive the friendship as possibly creating favouritism and risking impartiality.

  9. brightstar

    Even if Linda was not out right lying, people have a tendency to hear what they want to hear. And often they’ll ask for advice just to hear what they want to hear parroted back to them. Especially when you are in a sensitive position, it’s often better to err on the side of not having close friendships in the work place because there are so many ways it can back fire on you.

  10. PEBCAK

    This can true even if you are NOT in HR. In my first job, I was very close with a woman, “Pam,” who had a real sense of entitlement that conflicted with our culture (constantly making demands like those of Linda in the OP, taking advantage of flextime policies, etc.). At one point, I asked our boss for a few work at home days (minor medical procedure), and he was like, “oh, great, now Pam’s got you doing it, too.”

    Of course, it wasn’t fair at all that he was lumping me in with Pam based on the relationship she and I had outside of work, but it was known that we were close friends, and that’s how it was viewed.

  11. Auditoholic

    My sister works for the same company that I do and when she started, I was in a department whose primary responsibility was scheduling of hourly employees and tracking attendance points. It was awkward on all levels. She would ask me things that I couldn’t answer and people would assume I was giving her special treatment. I was so happy when I got a promotion and no longer was in a position to have any direct influence over her. I’m almost positive that if it had just been a friend and not my sister, the relationship outside of work would have completely ended. It was just a minefield.

  12. Joey

    That’s no friend. I have HR friends, but would never ask them to tell me anything that I couldn’t find out on my own. That is, they make me look smarter and in turn I promise to take all the credit for it.

    And surely, you absolutely have to worry about perceptions, but I don’t think you can’t be friends with HR folks. You just have to make it clear to others that the line between friendship and work is a bright one. That means at work, it’s all business. And the friendship stays out of the workplace.

  13. looloo

    I think that being in HR doesn’t necessarily prevent you from forming good or close friendships in the workplace, but if certainly seems to mean that you need to put a lot more careful thought and consideration into who you become good friends with. It seems like Linda was not the kind of friend you want to make.

    Sometimes this (being cautious about the friends you make) can be more work than people want to deal with, so they forgo making close friendships all together, but that’s your call. I can see how it could be hard to actively try not to make good friends, especially if you are in an environment where there are lots of people under 30 who are always social with each other, as you might be setting yourself apart in a negative way.

    1. Juli G.

      This. I’m in HR and have lots of good friends here – people I vacation with! My friends may complain about work or ask questions but they always understand what I can’t answer. Because they’re real friends, not jerks.

      1. Lynn

        Even here though, you run the risk of other employees and co-workers hesitating to come to you with any issues associated with your friends. It might work just fine in your specific case, but it’s definitely a possibility in your type of situation.

        1. Chriama

          Yep. That’s the one that sticks out to me. You might not have issues with your friends and work boundaries, but are there people in the company who perceive you as not impartial? Are people afraid to come to you for help? It might not be an issue in your specific case, but as an HR person it’s something to be aware of.

          1. Juli G.

            For me personally, I work at a Fortune 200. We HR people are a dime a dozen so there are other options. :)

            But in seriousness, yes, I have actually gotten some insight into some important situations unsolicited because my friends feel comfortable talking to me about it. I’ve also been very clear upfront about what I feel obligated to investigate (i.e. potential litigious situations) vs. what I will keep to myself (i.e. interviewing outside the company).

  14. Chriama

    Depending on how much of an ethical responsibility you feel towards the other employees or your company, having *any* friends — as opposed to colleagues — as an HR person is fraught with risk. Let’s say you have a friend who’s a manager, and he has some annoying tendencies that you can ignore because he’s your friend. But then it turns out that those same tendencies directed at his employees borders on abuse (not necessarily in a legal sense). If the employees know you guys are friends, they might not feel safe approaching you about these issues. That could mean employees leaving the company, or situations that are escalated to lawsuits instead of brought to your attention because the employees don’t trust you to be impartial. Or, if someone knows of your situation and asks you to talk to the manager, you risk having the employee retaliated against if you talk to the manager informally, or you’re in the uncomfortable situation of having a formal “hr talk” with your buddy.

    Overall, I would be very careful about having these relationships. It would depend on the size of the company, the reporting structure between you and your friend, and the nature of your respective roles (I mean, if you’re talent recruiting for IT in a large company and your friend is in marketing, there probably isn’t as much of a risk).

  15. Anonymous in Texas (just this once)!

    I had this happen once as well and I don’t know which was worst – the professional fall-out or the feeling of betrayal from someone who had been a close friend. I was actually her in wedding and she previously worked outside the company but I’d recruited her to join the company. Long story short she told her manager things I’d said, some were true and totally on me for saying them (in a “we’re both complaining about work way”), but several of the things she said were either untrue, or were her saying them and me nodding and smiling (which she later attributed those quotes to me!). The worst part of the whole thing was the realization we could no longer be friends, but I couldn’t tell her why since she clearly couldn’t be trusted to not run her mouth to others in the company. It’s been several years now and I have no idea if she knows why we are no longer friends. At the very least I learned an incredibly important lesson.

  16. Ed

    I used to be friends with a previous HR manager. She sort of avoided getting close with people at work but she relocated for the job so I think she eventually made some exceptions. I even dated her best friend for a while and we double-dated quite a bit. Thing got a little wierd when a) me and her friend broke up and b) I had a falling out with my manager. She had to get involved which got a little uncomfortable for her. I eventually moved on and we didn’t keep in touch. It’s a shame because I think we would have been good friends without the work connection.

  17. sophiabrooks

    When I worked in retail, we did not have registers of our own– we just put in our associate number to any register and could ring it. One day I was called into security and asked where I was ringing at a certain time on a certain day, and I couldn’t really remember, but I thought I was on the second floor covering for someone. Turns out coworker was on the first floor in our regular department using my number to put in a payment for her store credit card bill (but not putting cash in the drawer). Up until security saw the 2 numbers being used at the same time, they thought we were in cahoots! I was mortified. The worst part was that they then swore me to secrecy and took another 3 or 4 weeks to fire her, so I had to keep working with her pretending to know nothing so they could catch her. I wasn’t even supposed to tell the department manager, but I hinted that she should hire an extra summer worker because we were so short staffed that the loss of the stealing coworker would have been hell.

  18. Lynn

    I’ve been in a situation like this, where I simply listened “supportively” and then was listed as a supporter of a specific complaint that I totally disagreed with. I had to do some major damage control to repair my reputation with someone I respect a lot. It happens, it sucks, and you just have to own it and do what you can to fix it! A good lesson in how to respond to complaints/conversations in that type of setting. In my situation, too, it wasn’t really worth confronting the complainer… but it did inform how I interacted with her in the future, which was never, if possible.

  19. Liam

    I think this applies to managers and subordinates being friends outside of work, too. Because then anything “nice” that happens to the subordinate is cause for questioning and resentment.

    Case in point: the subordinate half of the friendship got a promotion to a management position within the department, skipping over three people with seniority, two of whom had prior management experience. The three senior people were not even made aware the position was available. The subordinate was not particularly great at their job to start with, and had zero management experience.

    We tried to put our faith in the Dilbert principle of ‘management is nature’s way of removing morons from the productive flow,’ but it was hard when you know the promotion probably put them in a salary band above those who had been skipped over.

  20. MaryMary

    OP, I also had my “encouraging, I’m-listening” body language blow up in my face when a coworker told management I agreed with her and told her certain things. I was very careful with my words, but she took my encouraging nods, non-committal responses, and lack of outright disagreement to mean much more than I intended. Lesson learned, I knew I had a terrible poker face but apparently it’s easy to project things on me too. I struggle with what I’d do differently, though. There are times when you need to listen and let someone vent, or when you need to talk to multiple people to figure out what’s actually going on, and saying, “you know, I think you’re wrong about that” or “I don’t think that’s what Wakeen meant when he said that to you” is going to shut down the dialogue.

    1. Aussie HR

      I’ve had to say this exact thing to someone “I don’t think that’s what your manager meant when he said that to you” – they just wouldn’t get it. Luckily for me the manager had already told me about the previous conversation so I was able to listen to the employee but redirect them to the correct interpretation.

  21. hayling

    I was friends with my last company’s HR manager. I barely talked to her at work (and I could tell she often spoke in “work mode”) and outside of the office we didn’t discuss work much. I noticed if I started to get into work-complainy mode she would swiftly change the subject, which was very good discipline on her part.

  22. HR Girl

    I’ve made the rule myself that it’s okay to have some close working relationships, but the friendliness should only remain at work. You have to be SO CAREFUL and really know the person you choose to befriend, and even then you can’t disclose things you want to so badly.

    I also learned, you should be careful who you share your “crazy” HR stories to. My fiance (now husband) was relaying a story to his neighbors about how I recently had to deal with a guy who’s pee wasn’t at the temperature pee from a human should be and the guy goes, “Hey! That’s me!” Lesson learned. Don’t poop where you eat!

  23. JCC

    So Personnel can no longer risk infomally talking to or listening to the personnel? :-) That sounds really frustrating, especially combined with the other constrants of modern HR; if SHRM isn’t careful, talented people may stop entering the field…

  24. Cheesecake

    We are all humans, so it is tough to distance yourself from colleagues as well as awkward. Having said this, especially in case of working at HR, i will only make friends with colleagues if i truly love and admire them :) Meaning i like them on all levels, want to spend time with them outside of the office NOT talking about work. And a friend will never talk to you about stuff you s/he knows you can’t comment on. Simple.

  25. Another HR Pro

    As an HR pro, I’ve learned that the only close friends I am willing to have at work are HR colleagues. You just never know when something unfortunate will happen (having to get involved in their termination, investigations, confidential information, etc., etc., etc.). When I was younger I did not have such a strong line, but I have learned over time. The reality is, many people will act like your friend at work when you are the HR person but they may not be. Fellow HR folks do not perceive any other benefit in being your friend. You still could end up in awkward reporting relationship issues, but generally that is it.

  26. Aussie HR

    I’ve actually had the exact opposite situation. I am a HR Manager and we had a fun and vibrant new starter in the marketing department who would often talk about work when we were together or diss her manager (comparing him to a mountain bear) She would also act unprofessionally addressing the HR team as ‘my bitches’ and ‘my sl*ts’. I never nodded, agreed or urged her to keep talking, but would often change the subject as it was just too awkward. I then started to distance myself from her to avoid any trouble but she would often come into my office and keep talking.

    When her behaviour went south, I used my experiences with her as evidence when discussing how unprofessional and inappropriate she is. This didn’t go down well with her and she told everyone in the office that “HR threw me under the bus” and they aren’t to be trusted. She did not speak to me in confidence, she spoke to me during work hours about work related issues. As Alison said, “Your job is to represent the company. That doesn’t turn off when you’re with coworkers, even when you’re outside work. It kind of sucks, but it’s an inherent part of the gig.” – I really think everyone has to learn this the hard way sometimes.

  27. prospectiveHRgal

    There was an employee that flirts and company instant messages me, I like being friends with him, and even crushed on him, sometimes conversation gets weird. Too personal about boyfriends or drinking.. its chummy and teasing. Im nervous. I want to stop because I want a career, how do I nip stop, is ut to late? We funny physically interact, just through email or company instantmsg . My non workfriend advised me to stop. I want to pursue work in HR (currently im in a different dept) and I’m afraid this will hurt my career path. I know better its an absolute no no. Please give advice, I dont want to report, just want to let things die down? Any tips??

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