am I allowed to have friends at work if I work in HR?

A reader writes:

Thanks to your blog and amazing advice on resumes, interviewing, and salary negotiation, I recently got a new job as an HR assistant at a small (under 100 people) company. I’m in my late 20s and have been out of college for six years, but this is my first job in the HR field, something I’ve been wanting to get into for a while. I’m excited that I finally made it.

This particular company has a lot of employees who are much older than I am (some close to retirement, some just in their 40s) and have very different lifestyles. However, there are a handful of people in other departments who are closer to my age, and I’ve started chatting with them in the hallway and when our breaks overlap. It’s a nice distraction in the middle of the day to casually have a five-minute chat about our weekends, etc. when I otherwise hear a lot about people’s families and kids. I’ve even hung out with a few of them outside of work.

Recently, I’ve started feeling a bit uncomfortable. As a member of the HR team, I have access to a lot of information – salary details, performance reviews, who’s up for promotions, etc. My mother (now retired) worked in HR for a while and told me that in general, HR staff isn’t really supposed to have friends in the company because of the potential for influence and information sharing.

I’ve tried not to share any information with my work friends that aren’t totally relevant, but I once told some of them that a manager was hiring a new team member for a newly created position; that news wasn’t officially announced for another week and was actually quite a big deal. No one got upset with me, but it was very clear that I should not have told anyone about this. Hiring is Very Secretive around here, which I don’t think is the norm elsewhere, but I’m trying to stick to the existing culture and not step on any toes.

I also recently held a feedback session with Erica, who manages my friends Nancy and Carter. Erica has been having issues with her team calling in sick on busy days when coverage is already light, and we decided that the best solution to this is to completely rearrange her team’s schedules – but I obviously can’t (and won’t!) mention anything about that to Nancy or Carter! I don’t know when that change will be announced or implemented, and in the meantime I’ve been trying to keep my mouth shut but it’s getting difficult and weird and I’m feeling uncomfortable every time I talk to Nancy and realize she doesn’t know what’s coming. I think Carter has an idea that something is about to change, but he hasn’t asked me directly.

I trust this blog, I trust its readers, and I trust you. So I ask: as an HR staffer, am I allowed to have friends at work? Or are the rules different for me?

The rules are different for you.

You can have pleasant, warm, social-ish relationships, but you can’t really have real friendships with coworkers outside of HR because of the potential for conflict of interest or the appearance of conflict of interest. There are limits to how close you can get to people. You can do things like go to the occasional happy hour, of course, but in general you probably should avoid hanging out with people outside of work, especially one-on-one, and you can’t develop the kind of emotional bonds that you might otherwise do.

In addition to the very real conflicts that crossing those boundaries pose (see: “it’s getting difficult and weird” from your letter), the appearance of impartiality thing is a big deal. You don’t want someone who’s being laid off wondering how it is that your friends just happened to be spared (even if there were utterly objective reasons for that). You don’t want someone who needs to report harassment hesitating because you’re friends with the harasser. You don’t want someone like Erica realizing that you’re friends with Nancy and Carter and wondering if she needs to worry about the confidentiality of her conversation with you.

You don’t want people questioning your integrity or the integrity of your employer’s processes.

In a lot of ways, it’s the same boundaries that managers need to have in place with the people who report to them, and for the same reasons. People need to trust that they’ve being dealt with fairly and impartially. Even when you have the best of intentions, that’s hard to pull off — in reality and in appearance — when friendships muddy the waters.

That’s something that can make those jobs pretty lonely at times. One way to combat that is to seek out people who you can develop closer bonds with. In your case, that’s other people in HR. I hear you that they’re all older than you, but you can actually develop rewarding friendships with people who are in different life stages than you are if you don’t get hung up on age. I’d use the fact that your options here are restricted as impetus to get past the age thing and see if you can find commonalities with them. There’s nothing to lose by trying, at least, and it might make the necessary restrictions of working in HR easier to swallow.

{ 138 comments… read them below }

  1. SaviourSelf

    HR is lonely. It really is. You are often the bad guy, the barer of bad news, and seen as the one that makes things no fun when you’re doing your job and protecting the company and its employees.

    As Alison mentions, you can be warm and cordial with your co-workers but do need to keep a professional distance. It is good for you and for them.

    One thing that I’ve found helpful is networking with other HR professionals in my geographic area and online. SHRM is the first organization that comes to mind but Meetup and LinkedIn have a number of other options as well.

    1. TheLW/OP

      I am in my local SHRM chapter but haven’t attended any events. I think I’ll start to look into that, especially the ones for ‘young professionals.’ Thanks for the tip!

      1. SaviourSelf

        There are also online groups for SHRM that are really helpful. I use them for networking, support, and general knowledge. Definitely look into it!

    2. louise in hr

      I agree with all of this. Getting involved in a local SHRM chapter that meets monthly was huge for me. Those are the folks I can get to know.

    3. Anonymouse

      “One thing that I’ve found helpful is networking with other HR professionals in my geographic area and online.”

      SaviourSelf, you beat me to it. I was thinking the OP could benefit from talking shop with other HR professionals. I’m not in HR but I’m the only person with the job description and responsibilities I have in my department and no one else is similar to me (either in job, temperament, or very sadly, work ethic).

      I would also say to the OP that don’t lose heart about not having any friends. One of my close friends used to be in HR and we are in wildly different industries. She has been a wonderful resource for me for my entire adult life while I looked for jobs. So even if you can’t have friends at your workplace, you will find others!

      1. Anonymouse

        ^ (either in job, temperament, or very sadly, work ethic). So it’s been very beneficial to reach out to people across the globe who do what I do.

  2. Manic Pixie HR Girl

    I was in your shoes in my last position. I had been working on a special project team to launch a new department within the agency and worked very closely with a small team. We all became really tight, and in addition, I also became friendly with quite a few people in the new department. However, as it was a quasi-HR role, I kept that cordial, arms-length distance with those people. But, not MY team, because that was different.

    When the agency’s HR office hired me to centrally manage HR for, among other programs, that department (with that department being my primary focus), it was … tough. There were things I knew were in the works, for example, that would directly affect them and I couldn’t discuss it, and when they would inevitably find out they were sometimes blindsided, and I would feel terrible. None of them blamed me for not discussing with them – they understood the situation – but it still was difficult to navigate. You have my sympathies, OP.

    1. TheLW/OP

      Thank you. It’s an awkward position to be in, and one I’m not used to. Before this job, I worked in a non-HR role on a VERY close-knit team (we’d go out for dinner/drinks all the time, go to each other’s houses, and even took a weekend trip together once), so it’s a big change that I’m still navigating. It helps to know that I’m not the only one who has felt this way!

      1. Manic Pixie HR Girl

        Yup, it really is! I had been working in HR (or quasi-HR) for different organizations for a number of years, so I was prepared for it and adjusted accordingly, but it’s not a situation I would have put myself into under normal circumstances.

  3. Moonsaults

    It’s going to save your heart in the long run to choose the lonely route over playing the huge gambling game of treading a thin line developing relationships outside of your department.

    Believe me, as someone who has had to be “that girl” over the course of my career has turned me into a much different person from a time when I was thirsty for socialization and let lines become a little more blurred than it should have. Not even in developing a real friendship even, just my heart frigging hurts when you have a bond with people and lay offs or worse firing for something ugly happens.

    You can certainly still attend company functions and have 5 minute chats in the hallway as usual. I would just keep it neutral at all times, you’ll be looked at as the “nice HR” person but not “my buddy in HR”, that’s a big difference and important.

    1. TheLW/OP

      I love that distinction between “nice” and “buddy” – I’m always afraid of coming off cold if I don’t befriend people; I’m still learning about navigating the happy medium. Thank you!

      1. Sami

        There’s a difference between being friends and being friendly.
        Think of a teacher and students: it’s not appropriate to be friends, but important to be friendly.

      2. Moonsaults

        I’ve always been well appreciated and liked in my role, it’s because I’m helpful and cheerful. Do your job well and they’ll appreciate you and respect you!

    2. Elliot

      I think it depends on your scope of duties within HR as well as the company’s culture and policies. When I worked in HR, our HR assistant actually lived with an admin assistant from another department. It never caused any issues because the HR assistant was never involved in employee discipline or firing.

      1. TheLW/OP

        Right, I don’t actually make any of those decisions, but I’m privy to the conversations where a lot of the decisions are made, so I think it’s still worth keeping in mind (in my position, anyway.)

        1. ExcitedAndTerrified

          I think your instincts are right here, OP, and for more reasons that just hiring and firing, despite what Elliot says.

          I remember when I was working as an executive assistant, and I happened to overhear another employee discussing how much debt she was planning to take on for a personal vacation. We worked in a field where there was often a lot of overtime available, and she was planning to pay off the debt from the overtime she was willing to pick up in the next three months (our busiest season).

          What I knew, because I’d been helping my executive organize it for a few months at that point, was that the company was unhappy with the overtime costs, and was for a temp service and college interns for the upcoming busy time. This hadn’t been announced to the company as a whole yet (the staff that was getting supplemented liked getting paid overtime, having multiple times indicated they considered the time and a half pay their ‘right’), nor was the announcement planned in the near future, because things weren’t quite finalized yet, but her vacation was going to be happening before anything was said, and I’m listening to her discuss maxing out her credit cards, in addition to getting a loan from a bank…

          So, what do you do, in that sort of a situation? It’s hard enough not saying anything when you’re just acquaintances with the person… if you’re their friend, can you still do your job and keep things under wraps? Think about the moment when they come back to you, hurt because you didn’t warn them. Can you handle that? The accusation that you should have said something?

          You’ll hurt yourself, and them, less, if you stay at a distance from the beginning.

  4. KarenT

    I play on my work’s softball team and so does one of the women from HR. It’s sort of funny, both because our team is a bit boisterous (joking around with a lot of swearing) and tends to gossip about work (as a manager myself, I don’t partake). But when she plays, everyone jokes they have to behave since HR is here. She always laughs and responds that she’s not HR after 4:30, and that everyone should just be themselves. There have been a few times she’s interrupted conversations with a low-key, “Guys, I really can’t hear this. If you need to talk about this, you shouldn’t do it in front of me.” I’ve always admired the way she’s been able to make people feel comfortable having fun and joking around with her, but at the same isn’t afraid to shut something down when she needs to.

    1. TheLW/OP

      I love that language, especially when coupled with the low-key tone. I could definitely use some work in speaking up when conversations cross a line. Thank you!

    2. Dan

      While others may like the general tone, she’s flat out lying when she says “she’s not HR after 4:30” and that people should just be themselves. As you note, she says there are things she cannot hear.

      As one of those engineering types who is a bit more literal than most, I really don’t like that soft line she uses, because it’s flat out untrue.

      1. Lillie Lane

        Yeah, it doesn’t make sense that she’s saying “I’m not HR after 4:30” when she turns around and tells people “Hey, I’m HR and can’t hear that”. Mixed messages and blurred lines.

        1. Working Mom

          I wouldn’t read into that closely. I think she is just saying they can relax and be themselves, if they swear a little during the game, no big deal. Now if they told off-color or offensive jokes or something, then I could see her say, “I can’t hear that!”

          1. Kyrielle

            But then you have to guess what she can’t heard! I would have assumed it was discussions of some problem with a coworker or manager, not an off-color joke at a non-official event. What about casual chatter about a medical condition, coming from the person with the medical condition? (Had an HR director once who walked out of a casual conversation saying she shouldn’t hear the coworker talking about what his appointment was for. Which was odd considering he had various paperwork on file with the company for…that condition, for accomodations. But she wasn’t being not-HR at an after-hours activity, so it was only a little odd.) Where is the line?

            Because I totally wouldn’t have assumed it extended as far as you did, and I’d feel less sure trying to navigate that than simply treating her presence as an HR presence and acting accordingly. And if I’d been told there was no line and it was all good – I would be very uncomfortable when it became clear that was not true.

          2. Lillie Lane

            I get what you’re saying, but she should have said something other than “I’m not HR after 4:30!” Because she is clearly still HR after 4:30, based on her second assertion.
            Besides, it’s not professional to tell offensive jokes, no matter whether you’re on the clock or not, or there’s an HR person around.

        2. Not So NewReader

          I took it as a response to having to behave because HR is here. She did not want everyone getting in a knot wondering how to act.
          Her response about things she cannot hear was in a different context because she was responding to a specific conversation.
          So in general, play and have a good time, but don’t load her up with stories that put her in a conflict of interest situation.

          Probably it would be easier to follow in some cases if one was in the situation and seeing the actual conversations.

          My boss and I face a similar type of thing. We can be very conversational, but there are specific things we cannot discuss. If a person is not familiar with all the ins and outs of our work, it is easy to cross over the line. So we just tell people when they hit particular topics that we can’t talk about it with them. People tend to take it in stride. “oh, okay, I understand.”

          People still tell us that they appreciate us being approachable and our willingness to be conversational.

      2. Kyrielle

        Yeah, I like the tone of either of her statements separately, but taken together, the second one walks back the first. I’d never trust talking freely around her at those games again after the first occurrence of the second sentence.

        If instead she’d said, “I’m not acting as HR here, if you start talking about something I really would have to pay attention to I’ll give you a heads-up” – I wouldn’t talk as freely around her as others, perhaps, but I would have no dissonance when she did speak up.

      1. Manders

        If it’s a college, they may have special rules for these situations. It’s pretty common for colleges to have many couples working in different departments, and in some cases a person might be hired in an administrative role *because* the college wants to hire their partner as a professor or coach.

        1. Leatherwings

          Yep, this is pretty different in academia. I know a husband and wife who work in the same department. The husband is technically the wife’s boss, but they farm out all the performance evals/pay/benefit discussions to someone else. Colleges and Universities usually have policies for this type of thing.

      2. CollegeAdmin

        The head of HR knows (actually all of HR knows) and are very supportive.

        Also, our work does not overlap – I work in IT, and my SO does recruiting/hiring.

    1. (Another) B

      I know a company where the HR director is dating the owner of the company. Talk about a conflict of interest! I think it’s terrible.

      1. Moonsaults

        Well HR is there to protect the company, so the owner being involved with HR isn’t that dangerous. I’d think the HR person would be even better at their job…

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          It’s a problem if, for example, someone wants to report the owner harassed them and doesn’t do it because they assume HR will be on his side. Or if there are problems with the HR director and people feel they have no one to report that to.

          1. Moonsaults

            Fair enough.

            But do you think that a lot of people who are being harassed by the owner of the company would go to someone internally about it? It seems that even if the HR person isn’t hooking up with the boss…you’d be in a really difficult situation right there.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              Yes! Harassment isn’t always full-on sinister; sometimes it’s something that the harasser doesn’t realize is being perceived that way.

              Also, if the company has a reporting process, you generally have to at least try to follow it in order to be able to bring any action later. (Having a formal process that the person neglected to follow is usually a defense to harassment complaints.)

          2. (Another) B

            Yes, that is exactly the problem. People in the company have legitimate issues with the HR director, but she “reports” to her boyfriend, so the issues remain. Similarly, there is no effective go-between between the owner and his employees. I don’t work for this company myself, and I wouldn’t want to with this type of management.

            1. Moonsaults

              I think I’m kind of in a weird void here because I always work directly for the owner, whereas they’re all old enough to be my dad…*wrinkles nose* So I’m not used to there being any disconnect, even if they’re not in a romantic relationship.

              So when it’s put into this perspective, I do understand the POV and see how it can be an uncomfortable mess.

  5. AshleyH

    I always say the loneliest jobs are HR and CEO :) You can certainly be FRIENDLY, but being friends is really difficult.

    The good news is that you can become friends with other HR people – I’ve worked in small departments where that wasn’t really an option, but at bigger companies some of my coworkers are still my best friends! Also, reach out to your local SHRM chapter – they frequently have happy hours and such – you can meet other people who are in a similar (lonely) situation.

    1. TheLW/OP

      The HR department here is basically just me and my manager, but I can definitely look into events by my local SHRM chapter. I did just move to be closer to this job, so I’m also seeing my old friends a lot less often, so I think the loneliness factor is intensified for me.

      1. Manic Pixie HR Girl

        Ooof, that’s rough. Making friends as an adult is HARD.

        In addition to your local SHRM chapter, might I suggest other meetups? Both professional and hobby? Meetup.com is a GREAT place to start. Also, local chambers of commerce also have young professional networking groups as well – not directly HR, but still beneficial!

      2. Shannon

        In addition to SHRM, consider getting involved in your community. Volunteer. Join a hobbyist group. It sounds like you need to make new friends in your new location due to your move.

    2. Joseph

      “You can certainly be FRIENDLY, but being friends is really difficult.”
      Exactly. A polite hello when passing in the hallway is fine. Randomly chatting for a couple minutes about family/kids/weather/sports/whatever is fine. If an entire big group is going out for drinks or whatever, it’s fine to go along every now and then. But that’s about the limit.

    3. pomme de terre

      I’ve only once been good friends with a HR person, and it was when we were both new college grads (so perhaps we had less than great professional judgement) and I was an assistant to a C-level exec. The C-level assistants experience some of the same loneliness/discretion issues as the execs and HR.

    4. Dan

      I wonder how many aspiring HR staffers out there realize that? Many people write in and say, “I like people, I want to be in HR!” I suspect they have no idea how lonely it really is.

      1. Jean

        Perceptive observation! Very wise to consider the hidden disadvantages as well as the obvious advantages of a job or professional choice.

    5. MsCHX

      +1 HR Manager and I have never had *friends* at work. And my department is myself and the VP and he is in another office, across the country. Lonely indeed!!

  6. neverjaunty

    LW, not only is it a problem generally for HR to have friends outside of HR, it’s clearly a problem for *you*, because you are struggling with proper confidentiality and, in one case, made a pretty serious error in sharing “big deal” information with your friends.

    You may not have gotten in trouble per se, but this kind of thing hurts you professionally, because now your friends (and possibly others in the company) know that you share confidential information with your friends when you aren’t supposed to. Consider how that looks to an employee who wants to report harassment, or who has a serious medical problem and needs FMLA.

    You’re pretty new so you have a chance to change things, LW, but I hope you will take AAM’a advice.

    1. TheLW/OP

      This is hard to hear, but I think I needed to hear it. You’re absolutely right – I tend to get very comfortable with friends and I realized that it’s really not okay for me to drop info like “we’re getting a new hire next month” when that’s normally not shared by anyone other than the manager in this office. I think my reputation here is safe – my manager understood that it was a total slip-up as I’m still very new – but I definitely don’t want it to happen again. I’m working on keeping my mouth shut more and following her lead. Thank you!

        1. Abby

          I agree with CollegeAdmin’s comment and your insight. Generally, I think that hires are often very confidential. When hiring is competitive or there are internal applicants, most managers want to keep that information very confidential.

          I have made friends with former co workers after they have left. In fact, I used to sign the pacheck for my current CEO and now he signs mine. We didn’t have a friendship until after he left a previous organization where I did HR.

          And, I will say as someone who has done HR for two decades, you may think someone you have gotten to know will never need to be fired, etc. but the truth is it happens more than you think.

        2. neverjaunty

          Yes, agree. LW/OP, that you have the right attitude and want to do the right thing, even if it’s uncomfortable, is probably something your manager recognized and why you will be able to move past this.

    2. Another HRPro

      Yes. It can be difficult when you are in HR. You end up knowing so much about people that they may not know about yet. A general rule I have it to always act as if I don’t know anything until it is clearly public. When someone say, did you hear that so-and-so is getting promoted? I respond, I haven’t heard even if I was involved in the conversation and did the salary work-up. OP, one of the key responsibilities of your role is to maintain confidentiality. Actual and perceived.

      Friendships in the company can be very tricky so as AAM and other commentators have stated you need to limit them. Close relationships will put you and your friends in a difficult position. So be friendly and nice, but remember your boundaries. Yes, this can be lonely but it goes along with the job.

  7. Seal

    Our HR person has tried repeatedly to befriend me, which is really uncomfortable for a number of reasons. Part of the problem is she’s not that good at her job in the first place and has made errors on paperwork and demonstrated some lapses in judgement when dealing with other people. I feel like I shouldn’t have to be the one setting boundaries with her, but ultimately that’s what happens. It also makes me reluctant to go to her with HR issues, which sometimes makes it difficult to do my job as a manager.

  8. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees

    At my former employer, the HR person was very, very friendly with some of my coworkers- in the new everything personal about their life, often attended birthday parties/weddings/playdates with them, and generally acted like a friend those employees got to fortuitously see at work! I never had a personal issue with any of those coworkers that involved talking to HR, but one day I heard some incredibly disgusting Islamaphobic talk going on in the breakroom. I did not take my concerns to HR because the offender was one of those people I observed having a close friendship with our HR person and it felt fruitless based on the relationship.

    Maybe it wouldn’t have been- maybe there was more of a professional boundary then I had observed- but the appearance of those blurred lines can definitely effect those employees who see themselves on the “outside.”

    1. Jean

      This is easy for me to say because I wasn’t there–but there’s always the option of expressing your dismay in the moment. I’m still learning this skill myself. My approach was to do a Carolyn Hax “why?” because
      – on the surface, it looks like a polite, non-judgmental request for the other person to clarify whatever she just said about those other people
      – under the surface, it requires her to rethink her position (evidence of this: she starts saying one thing, stops, and repeats with another thought)
      – it signals to anyone else involved in or listening to the conversation that this line of thought (aka trash-talking) is not going to pass without being questioned

      I’m still working on stepping it up a level by saying, “I’m not comfortable hearing this kind of generalization,” or something similar. The idea is to be non-confrontational and to question the statement, but not the person making the statement. It’s a matter of tactics. One changes more hearts and minds with kindness than with an all-out assault (“That’s terrible! HOW can you say that!”).

  9. NW Mossy

    While I’m not in HR, I did a stint in a role in my company where I had privileged access to personal info (particularly salaries) – my business line was basically a vendor to HR for a particular function. I absolutely learned more than I wanted to sometimes when I had fellow employees contacting me and sharing information about their personal situations that I didn’t need and then had to keep confidential. I was able to balance it because it was only one part of my job, but it definitely is a heavy weight to carry and requires strong compartmentalization skills.

    Even now that I’ve moved on to a different role, I’m a people manager and in an area where I often get wind of unannounced major changes early – my bosses are senior in the org and hear about it, and then tell me because they want the benefit of my industry-specific/institutional knowledge in their assessments. Ultimately, part of why I’m trusted to be in this role and learn of those things is because people know that I stay mum. It’s never easy, but it does get easier as you develop your ability to keep an arm’s length.

    1. ArtK

      I’ve been in situations like that far too many times. As a technical/team lead, I’ve been told about layoffs early, usually accompanied by the question “who can we afford to lose?” When my entire product was being divested to another company, I knew a month in advance of everyone else. Carrying that kind of knowledge and not revealing it is very stressful. I can’t imagine how much worse it would have been if I had closer relationships with my colleagues.

    2. Not So NewReader

      Sometimes managers have to keep secrets, also.

      “So, NSNR, are we getting laid off?”

      ugh, ugh, ugh.

      I learned to have a standard line and use it. “I have not heard anything definite either way.”

      “Should I look for a new job?”
      I would go to general advice, “That is a question I cannot answer with a yes OR a no. Either way, I come out on the wrong.” Then I went on to explain that it’s wise to be aware of what jobs are out there any way, that is just good general practice. Sometimes this info can help us to decide to stay with our current job a bit longer. It’s always a good idea to keep a big picture perspective regardless of current rumor mill stuff.

  10. HRish Dude

    HR is a lonely, lonely island.

    Everyone is suspicious of you, you’re pretty much the fall guy for everything. From experience, don’t make friends at work, absolutely don’t try to date anyone at work. It only ends badly.

    1. Dan

      Yeah… I think HR is a much harder career than people realize. As I mentioned above, many people seem to want to get into the field because “they like people”. For a people job, it can be very isolating.

      Add to the isolation the things you mentioned above — I’d hate for people to think I have a hidden agenda every time I speak — and sometimes I wonder why people do it.

      My old HR person used to say that she hated it that when she needed to talk to someone that people thought someone was getting into trouble. I told her she needed to make a point of having conversations that people knew were “no big deal” conversations. Otherwise, how do you think people are going to react when you use the “Hey, you got a sec?” line?

      1. Jules

        Sadly, when we hear newbies tells us that they joined HR because they like people, we laughed because it used to be us who said that. Not too long in, you learn the underbelly of humanity.

        1. Jadelyn

          Lol, maybe that’s why I fell on my feet in this job. I don’t particularly care for people, I’m strongly introverted and just not much of a people person…but I really enjoy being in HR. Maybe being a mild misanthrope helps?

          Because yeah, you definitely see some s***. From people you’d never have expected to see it from.

        2. Another HRPro

          So true! In HR you really get to see the worst in people and you can never get too close to the good ones.

      2. Jadelyn

        My VP of HR makes a point of going to the branches in our various regions and just working out of there for a day or two regularly. He told me about the first time he did it, he worked out of one branch all day and close to the end of the day, the branch manager came to him and was like “So…did you need to talk to me or anything?” because she couldn’t imagine that HR would be in her branch unless something was wrong. He really works hard to cultivate the sense of HR as *part of* the organization in the day-to-day to combat that exact misconception.

      3. SaviourSelf

        This is such a key thing. People think they’re being called to the proverbial principal’s office every time HR wants to see them unless you, the HR person, works to change that perception. I make a point of taking teams out to lunch, being friendly with everyone, and randomly calling people to see me for little things (missing forms, reminders about impending deadlines, check ins to see how something is going, etc.). That way people see it as NBD when I ask someone to come into my office, whether it is or not.

        As the HR person, you don’t want people to think that they’re going to be fired every time you need to remind them to sign line number 7 of the TPS report.

  11. Punkin

    I was never in HR, but I was a supervisor once.

    My sister worked the third shift (basically unsupervised, as there was only one person on duty) as a clerk, kinda. I worked second shift (supervised “clerks”). I fired my sister for no-call, no-show. It was company policy. We were young, but we kept business & personal separate. I love her more than anything, but business was business. She understood.

    1. TheLW/OP

      We have a rule in my family that no one is allowed to work for the same company at the same time for pretty much this reason. Things almost got ugly and we decided we don’t want to go through that mess again. I’m glad things were relatively clean for you and your sister, and that she understood company policy was separate from your own sibling feelings!

      1. Punkin

        Good family rule! It was never ugly with us. She was young (like 19 or 20) and was sunbathing during the day, dating in the evening and just did not build in time for sleep. ;-) That’s what happens when a country girl moves to Las Vegas!

        Your family rule works well in case of company upheaval as well. I have seen families devastated when a company is sold/closes. The entire household depended on one income source. All the eggs in 1 basket & such.

        Good fir you on reaching out to get feedback. AAM is priceless.

    2. BPT

      That’s amazing you were able to keep things professional. I worked at a camp with my brothers one summer (where I was their supervisor), and…it did not go well. I mean they were teenagers and I was 22 so we should have expected it, but never again.

    3. Moonsaults

      My brother and I have the same relationship, if either one of us ever were in that place, he’d fire my butt and I’d fire his! It always helps if you both share the same work ethic like we do, if we mess up, we’ll accept it and not blame the other for calling us on our behavior.

      On that note, that’s why I loath hiring anyone who are related. We’ve hired and fired brothers multiple times and we’ve also hired someone, they’ve got X, Y, Z hired on once they found out we had other openings. Only to have the one who referred them get fired for no call/no show. It’s a headache when there’s so much going on in there, lots and lots of roommates too >_< Argh, they may as well be related.

  12. Mrs. Batts

    When I first started out in HR, I became friends with the only other woman my age at a very small office. It was quite a test to my professionalism and I am so grateful that my boss was so understanding through it. My friend (former) didn’t have good boundaries and put me in some very uncomfortable situations. We had a conversation once about what others in the office make and I blurted out that I had access to the information (so dumb of me); she then spent the rest of the conversation trying to get me to find out info for her that she “wasn’t going to use” in negotiations with her boss.

    I hope you have other colleagues in HR with you. That helps it be less lonely, even if they are older and don’t seem to have as much in common with you. I was the only HR person for years during my career (always with careful boundaries on friendships after the first bout). I now have a team who reports to me so I still have to maintain those boundaries but it helps you feel less alone if you have other colleagues to talk to. If you are the only HR person, look for a mentor. My company brought on an HR consultant for a specific project for a period of time and I still call her to this day to talk through really odd HR stuff.

    1. TheLW/OP

      I think the fact that I’m in such a small company (my last job was at a 2000-person international business) is making this trickier for me. The only other HR staff is my manager, and she’s been great. I do also have an HR mentor outside of this office/field, so I’m planning to bring this up with her when I meet her next. Solidarity helps!

  13. Jesmlet

    While right now because you’re just an HR assistant, there might not be an issue with conflict of interest or impartiality, it’s pretty clear this is the direction you want your career to go, so might as well get used to not having friends at work now rather than later, especially since it seems like it’s something you’re struggling with. Unfortunately it’s probably going to be a little hard to walk away from already established friendships, but it may save a big headache in the long run.

    Even though other people in your department may be at different life stages than you, it’s still possible to form connections and find common ground. This is the direction I would take to avoid feeling lonely at work.

    1. TheLW/OP

      I’m definitely finding common ground within the department where I can, but it’s hard when my manager has three young kids and I still feel pretty fresh out of college. I’m struggling with what to talk to her about other than work stuff and the people who are employed here.

      And I’ve already been backing off from the friendships I have with Nancy and Carter. I’m still friendly around the office, but I’m not dropping by their desks just to chat about our weekends or whatever.

      1. Jesmlet

        Yeah that’s tough. I’m only 3 years out of college and the person I work closest with has 2 school-aged kids. We just so happen to watch a lot of the same shows so we talk about that a lot. Plus his kids are adorable so I love hearing about them and what they’re up to.

      2. Moonsaults

        You will learn to navigate it, it just takes time.

        Try not to view her as just “a mother of small kids”, a lot of people are not strictly revolving around their kids and only their kids. I know that there are plenty like that but on the other hand, there are plenty of parents who enjoy talking about anything other than kid stuff.

        Her life at home is all kids, so having adult conversations and time may be hugely welcoming.

        My best friend has a lot of children and I have none. We talk about her kids frequently enough because I have relationships with them as well but we also talk about everything else in between. She’s very supportive and loving to hear about my life because it doesn’t have as many boogers or school conferences involved.

      3. Shannon

        I’m getting the sense that you seem to think that you can only be friends with people who are in the same phase of life as you are. Please reconsider that notion. Yes, it’s easier to find things in common with people who are in the same phase of life as you are, but you will find that interests can span ages.

  14. NoMoreMrFixit

    Not working in HR yet, but used to have access to confidential information when I worked as a systems admin. Things like being told at noon that as of 4:30 I had to disable somebody’s account as they were being let go. Lot easier to do my job when I didn’t have any sort of relationship or connection to the person heading for the door.

    Due to having that sort of information work friends were always from within my area rather than outside of my department.

    1. Abby

      And, really learning boundaries and how to keep information confidential is important no matter what your role. I started out as a secretary and because I was a secretary in IT, I often knew who was going to be fired/laid off because I had to do some of the paperwork to disable accounts, shut off pagers (See how long ago it was?), etc. I knew things that I couldn’t share which is something that has served well throughout my career. When you are in HR, you can’t gossip.

      1. TheLW/OP

        Yeah, gossiping would definitely get me in trouble. The tricky part is when I’m working with IT to make sure a new hire has a computer and phone and one of my ‘friends’ walks by and says “oh, is someone moving into this cubicle?” I’m just not sure how to answer that without lying or giving away information that isn’t mine to share – is there a third option?

        1. NW Mossy

          I think you can address that directly with something like “Can’t discuss it, but there will be an announcement when it’s public knowledge.” Assuming that these colleagues are reasonable people, they’ll understand your position. If someone’s enough of a jerk to press you, it’s evidence for you that this is not a person you want to be sharing anything even remotely confidential with, because they aren’t willing to respect the entirely appropriate and reasonable boundaries HR personnel have.

          1. TheLW/OP

            Ooh, perfect language. I will use that exact sentence next time it comes up (and it comes up almost *every* time we have a new hire!)

            1. A Good Jess

              Given that it comes up so often, is there any way you can tweak your on-boarding process or discuss with the hiring managers and IT if there might be a way around this? If “Very Secretive” is so important to the managers, it might be worth raising this to see how they want to handle it.

              Let them decide how much they value Very Secretive vs. Day 1 Computer Ready. Maybe the managers will decide to announce that *someone* is coming but not who yet, or maybe IT can keep a handful of computers prepped with a base configuration so that set-up is shorter and can be started later after the public announcement.

              1. Not So NewReader

                This is a good point to talk about with your boss at some point.

                Installing a computer is generally a sign of a new person coming aboard. It’s ridiculous to pretend nothing is happening, when obviously something is. It kind of makes the company look foolish.

                It also helps to feed distrust. “No, I just felt like installing a random computer today, honest. I thought one would look good right here.”

            2. Jean

              Or maybe certain conversations re incoming new hires can be moved to a more private location or conducted only via email (using screen filters/whatever you call those devices that prevent passers-by from reading everything on your monitor)?

            3. Another HRPro

              Don’t feel awkward about dodging questions like this. People will understand and appreciate that there are things that you can’t tell them. And the more you stand your ground on that, the less people will pump you for info.

          2. Gyrfalcon

            I think “can’t discuss it but there will be an announcement” gives away the fact already that what was asked about is in fact happening. I suggest saying something more like “It’s up to the manager for how this cube come will be used.”

          3. govHRpro

            One of my favorite phrases to use is “It isn’t my news to share – I’m sure something will come out soon.” This works great because not only am I married to someone in another area of our organization, but I am also assigned to the HR responsibilities for our HR staff. As such, I’m often privy to information that isn’t available to even my own coworkers yet. Luckily, most of our HR staff are pretty understanding and don’t push for more than they should know!

        2. Leatherwings

          I find that light hearted (kinda stupid) jokes often get the point across. Something like “Sorry, that’s Top Secret information. If I told you the CIA would be after me”

    2. rubyrose

      When I started in IT I was responsible for printing the payroll checks and bursting them into individual checks (yes, a very, very long time ago). That, along with being able to get into the database and see pay information, taught me very early that certain topics were totally off limits with others (even others in my own department). It taught me well. I now work in healthcare IT, and following HIPAA rules are just second nature.

  15. pomme de terre

    Cheers to AAM for emphasizing the possibilities and benefits of inter-generational friendships! It can be a really great thing to have friends who are different life stages, especially when everyone your age is doing X and you are still Y.

  16. Pup Seel

    I definitely agree with Alison’s advice to try to develop bonds with people in your department despite their age. At my current position, a woman and I were hired around the same time two years ago. I was in my early twenties, single, going out with friends every weekend, and transitioning out of college life, while she was in her mid thirties, married, had a kid, and spent her weekends with family. We ended up becoming really good work friends. She was laid off a few months ago (but found a better job within a month of job searching), though we still talk via email, get lunch together from time to time, and just two weeks ago she invited me for dinner with her family. Age doesn’t have to dictate who you’ll click with.

    1. neverjaunty

      Yes, this. It can be a little harder when you’re at different life stages, but learning to find shared things to talk about is a good skill. Food, hobbies, entertainment, are all things that aren’t work-related and where you can find common ground.

      1. Alton

        Agreed. I think being at different stages in life can be a barrier, but it’s not something that comes down to age alone. It’s worth being open-minded. There are people your age whom you’re going to have nothing in common with, and people older or younger who have similar interests or who actually have a similar lifestyle as you.

  17. JustAnotherHRPro

    Alison,
    Thank you so much for taking this stance on this particular question. As a 15+ year career HR Professional in management, this is something I learned quick. I also take a pretty hard stance on this with regards to my direct reports. The reason being is for all the reasons you state. People think if they “get in good” with someone in HR, they get all the juicy gossip. On more than one occasion I have had to counsel a Generalist or Coordinator when I have discovered them either divulging information they shouldn’t, or even worse – asking me questions about ER issues that they are not in the “need to know”. My conversation always ends up with “this type of work isn’t for everyone. Perhaps this field isn’t a fit for you.”
    For me, I have learned that, while there is a social aspect to work, I don’t rely on work for my friendships. I do, however, make friends through my network of HR Professionals. That is actually EXTREMELY helpful when I have an issue I want some advice on (yes – even people at my level seek advice at times). In fact, it is one of these friends of mine in the field who always says “HR is a lonely profession”
    I also wanted to thank you for this stance because I think a lot of people misunderstand HR professionals who do decide to take a hard line on socializing at work – other people in the organization wrongfully assume you aren’t friendly, or you are standoffish. Its not always the case. Often times we keep to ourselves because we have to – it makes our lives a lot easier when the not-so-comfortable parts of our job are required.

    1. TheLW/OP

      Thanks so much for chiming in – as someone new to the field, hearing this perspective from someone who’s been in it for 15+ years really helps. I think part of me knew that friendships were going to be tenuous or difficult, but it sounds like drawing a hard line and being friendLY with colleagues but staying away from actually becoming FRIENDS is the way to go. I’m going to take this seriously and seek my friendships elsewhere. Thank you!!

      1. JustAnotherHRPro

        I am so happy to help! Don’t worry – not having “friends” at work doesn’t mean not having friends period. In fact, quite the opposite. I have TONS of friends outside of work – some work in HR at other companies, some in other fields.

        OH – if could offer ONE other piece of advice, if you choose to stay in HR (which, I think, is an AWESOME field BTW) – make sure your privacy settings are to the MAX on all social media except LinkedIn, and I would suggest your profile picture and cover photo were either not of you, or at the very least incredibly not-risque. And obviously – no FB friends at work either. I have had to have THAT conversation before too. I myself tried to change my name on FB, but they wouldn’t let me.

        1. TheLW/OP

          Excellent point. I just went into to Facebook and unfriended my current coworkers. If they notice and if it gets awkward, I can point out that I’ve come to recognize the HR barriers that are an industry norm and I’m trying to adhere to that.

        2. No Name Yet

          As a side note from someone who has high privacy settings on Facebook for professional boundary reasons – what I and a lot of colleagues do for our names is use some combination of first and middle names, and maybe a last initial. So I have First name and Middle initial/Last initial (like Jane AS). Others do first and middle names (Jane Allison), or middle and last name (Allison Smith). Some women will also use their maiden name if they go professionally by their married name, and vice versa. And Facebook has been fine with all of those, at least so far. Sorry if I misunderstood your comment, but hope this might be helpful.

  18. Liane

    “I hear you that they’re all older than you, but you can actually develop rewarding friendships with people who are in different life stages than you are if you don’t get hung up on age.”

    This is the only part I am qualified to address:
    It is very true. Husband & I realized years ago that most of our friends were either 10-15 years older or younger, due to hobbies and other things, & it is the same now. It doesn’t matter. We just have fun and like each other because we have whatever in common. In your case–as when we had kids–it can be valuable to have friends who have been through your stage.

  19. Jadelyn

    I’m also in HR, and I actually do have one particular coworker outside of HR that I’d consider a friend. We’ve gone to lunch on the weekends a few times, gotten drinks at happy hour after work once or twice, but I only talk with him about non-work stuff when we’re hanging out. We’ll talk about anime, about our cars (we’re both car people), about video games, we’ll share silly memes, but we don’t talk about work, and we don’t hang out *at work* (to avoid the appearance of potential favoritism), and that’s a barrier I put in place to protect both of us.

    Because not only could I say something they weren’t supposed to know yet, but if they say something about an issue with another coworker then I feel like I’m obligated to bring it to the attention of my colleagues in HR so they’re aware of a potential trouble spot before anything flares up. Like the person above in the comments, I tell people I’m not HR as soon as I walk out of the office door…but that only goes so far, because if I learn about something that needs to be addressed I can’t avoid addressing it just because I heard it after hours.

    However, I would really recommend making friends within the field – I’m on a team of 5 and we’re super close-knit, even though I’m the “baby” of the office at 31 years old while they’re all in their late 40s and up.

  20. Always Thinking

    You might also want to think a bit about your practice of having hallway conversations with staff your age but not older staff. I get not wanting to hear endless kid stories (BOY do I get it) but people notice things like that and especially as an HR person you want the staff to trust you and think you care about them as people and not just employees.

    1. TheLW/OP

      This is a really good point, and one I honestly hadn’t considered. I will definitely work on making sure I’m *equally* friendly with the employees here. Thank you for pointing this out!

  21. Rachel - HR

    You need to decide if HR is the right role for you. It sounds like you’re struggling keeping in things that would be minor at most companies. As you progress in your career, you’re going to hear far more interesting and upsetting things. You should really think about if it’s the right fit for you. As others have stated it is not a social role and that can be very difficult. I actually just had to have this conversation with a candidate for an HR Assistant role.

    What I have found helps is having a supervisor you can vent to and developing stronger relationships with people who are also in the know (e.g. quality assurance, upper management).

    1. Jadelyn

      To be fair, it sounds like the reason she had an issue with keeping confidentiality on the one thing was *because* it’s something that would be considered minor at most companies. At my org, unless there’s something weird going on with a position (and sometimes there is, but I always know that to prevent precisely this situation), there’s nothing wrong with mentioning hiring for a new position. It sounds like at this company, hiring is treated much closer to the vest than at most places, and that specifically seems to be the issue. The OP didn’t realize it would be an issue to mention it and therefore failed to keep that confidentiality because anywhere else, it wouldn’t have been a confidential piece of information to guard.

      Now, if she had let slip someone’s salary or disciplinary action, I’d be a lot more concerned and could understand the handwringing about “maybe HR isn’t right for you” – but this is a mistake at a very low level and it sounds like she’s already well learned the lesson from it, so I don’t think we need to undermine her by suggesting she’s on the wrong career path simply because she’s still new and still learning.

      1. TheLW/OP

        Thank you! Yes, at every other company I’ve worked at, hiring has been very transparent – everyone is involved with interviewing and getting to know candidates. At this company, though, it’s pretty secretive; the managers usually send an e-mail announcement to the office the day before someone new is starting and they won’t say anything else before that, even if paperwork is filled out a month in advance. I didn’t realize that it was that hard and fast, but I’ve since learned that the culture is different here and now do not say anything until it’s clearly public knowledge. Obviously, I would never mention salary, disciplinary, or promotion info to *anyone* outside of my manager.

        1. Jadelyn

          That’s good – I figured it was more of a misunderstanding about the culture than a real problem with your ability to keep confidentiality.

          Just as an aside about confidentiality in general…build yourself a reputation for discretion and trustworthiness and guard it jealously, because that is worth more than gold in this profession. I’ve been asked to support very confidential and high-level projects specifically because the VP and company president knew they could trust my discretion, and it’s gotten me a lot of good exposure to high-level business dealings and has helped my visibility with the executive team considerably, which is something to keep in mind if you’re intending to set your sights high within the profession. :)

  22. HR Girl

    It gets better if you’re able to eventually be with a company with a large HR department. You can have friends across HR and it helps, especially when you can gossip about the crazy things you experience being in HR. Until then, the SHRM meetings are helpful as well as any other YP organizations outside of work (my local commerce center has this).

    1. JB

      This! After two HR roles where there were only one or two onsite HR people, I left for a large organization where I was one of many. This created a much better environment for me personally because I could socialize and make friends at work. This is probably not the norm, but I also hated having an office; it felt so isolating. Strangely, I rather enjoyed working for a larger company where I could sit among peers where I could talk about my work and bounce ideas off of each other.

      As a lonely HR member, I did become close friends with the other person in HR (who was sometimes my boss, as the reporting structure changed several times). We were in different life stages at some points, but I’m still friends with her today. I probably would have enjoyed my role better if I had taken the advice earlier on that you’re receiving here, OP – networking with more folks in the HR field outside of work is so important for so many reasons! Also, once I left the organization, there were a couple people I did become friends with that would have been inappropriate at the time.

  23. Menacia

    Unfortunately, where I work, the head of HR is besties with the woman who sits in the cubicle next to me and so I can overhear their conversations about HR matters that should *NOT* be discussed with bestie who is not in HR. I have brought up one issue with HR regarding a coworker and nothing was done so I find them pretty much useless. They actually call me for help with things they should already know how to do (in the HR software), so I know a lot more about employees than I should simply due to my supporting HR, but I would never betray the confidence of any employee if I should happen to learn something about them.

  24. DNDL

    I’m developing a very close relationship with two women at work who are my mom’s age. They’re wonderful! Age differences and different life stages do not need to keep you from forming close bonds with other people. I have two wonderful, close women in my life that I can go to for advice now. I encourage you to befriend your HR coworkers.

    1. Jadelyn

      Agreed! It gives you a whole other circle of people who have life experiences you don’t. I’m thinking about buying a house in the next six months or so, and I’ve got not only my own mom but my three older coworkers to talk with about the process and get their advice on.

    2. Jean

      I have a friend 16 years older than I (we met when we were both graduate students) and one 16 years younger (our kids are friends). If you are kindred spirits, to quote Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, age won’t matter much.

  25. Ellen N.

    I was on the other side from what you’re describing so I can tell you what it looks like from there. I was a manager in a company that had a young man as the HR/Office Manager. He was friendly with all the people in the office who were in their twenties, including going out with them outside of work. They were usually our assistants. There was a view amount all the managers that he favored the younger employees to the point that he was obstructing our ability to manage them. He refused to impose consequences on the younger employees for texting during work, watching videos during work, coming to work late, excessive absenteeism, etc. All of these things were against company policy.

    1. Blossom

      Side point, but should it not be for the managers to impose consequences for things like texting and general slacking off? Or did you need HR’s support and he refused to give it? Either way, it sounds like he had too much power.

  26. DQ

    I just wanted to confirm what Alison and others have said about friendships outside your age bracket. I promise you that though I’m in my 40’s with kids now, it was just a second ago that I was at the bar with my 20-something co-workers gossiping about work. Thankfully, we (albeit perhaps out of a sense of obligation) invited our then 40-50ish co-workers to join us because those friendships have become some of the most meaningful in my life and career. Besides just being people who are still fun, to me this was the least awkward way to find mentors. I know your letter speaks to other issues, but if the chance presents itself to go to happy hour with some other HR collegues who happen to be older, please go. You may be surprised what you get out of it.

  27. HR After the Fact

    I had to navigate this minefield backwards. I was not in HR when I started my job here, but fell/got shoved into the position a couple of years later. I had already become good friends with several co-workers, with many away-from work activities, attending functions at each other’s homes, and including a couple of vacations together with one coworker who is one of my best friends.

    I didn’t feel that I could “unfriend” my friends when I became HR, so I had to get good very quickly at figuring out how to handle all the complications. Especially because since I often participated in the work conversations/speculations/etc. prior to being in HR, my coworkers felt comfortable asking me to confirm or provide info that they wouldn’t have dreamed of asking the HR Manager.

    There haven’t been any incidents which caused, or appeared to cause, a conflict of interest, but that’s mostly been luck. And I guess it’s also luck that my friends have been true friends and don’t get their panties in a twist when I tell them that I’m not at liberty to disclose/discuss something. Sometimes I feel ready to burst with the secrets and confidential information I am privy to but can’t share, but that’s the gig.

  28. MsCHX

    Mentioned up thread, I am in a 2 person HR department but reporting to the Global SVP who is on the other side of the country. It is quite lonely and while I like my coworkers in general, I have learned that my predecessor must’ve blurred lines quite often. The things people expect me to share with them is telling. I’m also thinking she complained about my boss (and the executive team overall) to people as well.

    So with me already having a ‘no friends at work’ stance, and not being willing to dish dirt, I’m quite the loner!

  29. Barista

    Not advice or anything, just wanted to mention that I’m really thankful for the bond I developed with my own HR manager from my last job. We were both smokers and ended up taking regular smoke breaks together. She definitely held a lot of the office gossip back, but she also didn’t strictly adhere to the conventional rules, either. She complained about our GM at the time (an awful, awful man – seriously) and divulged a few reasons behind why certain people were let go. I held it all under strict confidence, of course. But I undoubtedly grew quite fond of her to the point where I could not say anything at the executive good-bye lunch we had for her. We went around the table saying nice things and how we’d miss her and I had tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.

    Basically, I’m saying my own HR manager at the time broke the rules by being friends with me. But I was comfortable enough to let her know my financial troubles and she walked me through a budget and advised me on what to pay and when. I was comfortable enough with her to let her know that someone was smoking cannabis on the job when I might not have otherwise.

    1. MsCHX

      I don’t think the “rule” is to not be friends; it’s just that we’re only human and it’s harder to keep that line when you’re friends with someone. She really broke the rules by divulging confidential info to you. That’s just not right. Do you not believe you could have still gotten close to her and therefore felt comfortable with her if she hadn’t done that? What if she had other friends and divulged your confidential information to them?
      It gets pretty uncomfortable pretty quickly which is why most of us keep a bit of distance.

  30. HR Expat

    We lead a lonely existence in HR. In each of my roles, I’ve supported people who I felt I could be good friends with. But I made it a point to treat them the same way as I treat employees I really don’t like.

    I had a manager who gave me some great advice a couple years ago. He told me that there’s no issue with us going to the bar with colleagues, but never be the last one to leave. He used this analogy a lot to say that it’s ok to be friendly, but never forget that what you do and say are highly scrutinized. Unfortunately, one of the downsides of the job is that we’re held to a much different standard in the organization (as we should be).

  31. TheLW/OP

    I want to thank everyone again for sharing their advice and experiences – it sounds like HR as a lonely path is a pretty universal understanding. I do still believe it’s the right career path for me, but I’ll take care to make sure I make friendships outside the office.

    I noticed that a lot of people picked up on my comment about the age gap, and I wanted to clarify: I absolutely believe that friendships can happen between people of any ages, and I do have friends outside of work who are much older (late 30s with kids, 60s and retired) and much younger (still in college). I know age and life stage isn’t the only basis for a friendship, believe me. My issue specifically with this office is that a lot of the older employees are VERY conservative, and often quite vocal about that. I’m not straight but I’m not out at work, so I tend to shy away from trying to form friendships with people whose beliefs are so different from mine.

    Either way, that point is relatively moot now, as I’m not going to be seeking friendships with ANYONE at work. I’m slowly pulling away from the ‘friends’ I’ve already made and will work on being equally cordial to others outside my department, regardless of age OR belief. Thanks again, everyone!

  32. Manager in CA

    The analogy from Alison that being in HR is like being a manager is spot on. And the one thing I rely on the most as a manager, besides my HR contact, is my gut instincts. If it feels wrong, you shouldn’t do it. And kudos to the OP for having good instincts, being able to spot those issues, and realize that having deep friendships while working in HR will make her job harder. Not everyone has those self-assessment skills.

    I’m not friends with anyone on my team even though I’m friendly with everyone on my team. My team needs to know I will be fair and impartial with each of them. And everyone on my team, including me, needs to know HR is going to be fair and impartial. I’m in constant contact with HR on a variety of issues, everything from promotions and raises for my team to the grim task of firing someone, and doing my job the best way possible requires fair and honest advice from my HR contact.

  33. EEM

    I completely disagree with this answer! I am in HR and have maintained very close friendships with other departments such as finance, marketing, admin assistants! And no one usually asks me anything HR related because they know better. And if they do I give my standard answer “I don’t know about that, and even if I did, I wouldn’t be able to tell you” and that moves the conversation right along.

    And I do have real friendships outside of work with these people

  34. Barbara Lander

    The in house legal department is another one where making friends in the company can be awkward or downright frowned upon. I’ve spent most of my legal career in house and it can get rather lonely if you don’t want to hang out with the other lawyers, or if you don’t like them. At one job, there were three other lawyers and I couldn’t stand any of them. So I joined my local chapter of an in house counsel networking organization. Best thing I ever did.

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