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(Cinders McLeod/The Globe and Mail)
(Cinders McLeod/The Globe and Mail)

Nine To Five

How do I draw the line between work and play with colleagues? Add to ...

THE QUESTION

I work at a sport and events marketing company and have recently been promoted to account manager. The marketing/advertising realm is one of a “work hard, play hard” attitude, which seems to lead to hanging out at night and on weekends with your co-workers, both superiors and subordinates. This can create a sensitive balancing act in which your weekend friends then become your superiors/subordinates on Monday morning. You then need to pick and choose when to converse as co-workers (maintaining respect, professional decorum, hierarchy) and friends (joking around and talking about your personal life).

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Are there specific professional guidelines that address how to interact with co-workers as both colleagues in the workplace and friends?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Billy Anderson

Founder, Made You Think Coaching, Toronto

My first career was in advertising and my liver is still recovering. So I get what you’re saying.

I believe in being the same person at work and socially. There is nothing more exhausting than trying to be something you’re not. The key is to be respectful at all times; don’t say or do anything you would regret if someone else was to find out about it.

Hanging out socially can actually lead to stronger teams. Your co-workers will see you as being consistent and might respect you and trust you even more. After all, “politics” equals conflict without trust.

However, first ask yourself if you even want to hang out with them outside office hours. Is it fun? Do you respect them? If the answer to any of these is “no,” then don’t bother.

No matter what, always be careful how much you drink. You don’t want to become known as the office “petter” – the guy who gets a bit too touchy – or barf in your beer at the end of the night (yes, I’ve seen that, too). And never ever do anything illegal with them. Obviously. It’s also not usually a great idea to get romantically involved with a co-worker. (But if I set that as a rule, then I’d be a total hypocrite and I’d have to call off my wedding later this year.)

So take it slow at the beginning – especially with subordinates – and see how it goes. But don’t be afraid to be yourself, because you’re better at that than anyone else is.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Colleen Clarke

Corporate trainer and career specialist, Toronto

If you are working and playing with business colleagues, the most professional and safest role to take is always one of “at work.” Socializing with your boss is a great way to get some one-on-one time in a relaxed environment, but business is business and you can’t cross the lines of authority because you are now in a social situation. Your boss expects respectful behaviour and appropriate dress.

Socializing with co-workers means you still have to maintain your reputation and keep the respect of others. Keep your jokes and banter the same tone as at the office. Don’t risk hurting anyone’s feelings or embarrassing yourself.

Limit your alcohol (just because someone else might be paying doesn’t make it a free-for-all). Eat something before you attend an event so your stomach can handle that first drink.

Discuss non-work related topics as much as possible. You’ll get to know people better by steering conversations along a personal line rather than your latest promotion. Try to speak to as many people outside your immediate work circle as possible. Use these opportunities to build a stronger, more diversified network. People love listeners best of all. Never gossip, tease or speak badly about anyone in the company.

Look at your behaviour this way: If you wouldn’t want what you did or said to appear on the front page of Monday’s newspaper, don’t do it.

Are you facing a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that minefield? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com. Confidentiality ensured. Weigh in with your view at tgam.ca/careers. Check out past columns here.

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