Career SuccessMar 22, 2023

The Tricky Business of Navigating Friendships at Work

We become who we surround ourselves with. Plain and simple. There’s a reason parents are concerned about who their teenagers hang around, and why kids’ behavior is heavily influenced by peers.  It’s not just children, it’s all of us. Look around at your social circle.  We typically think and behave a lot like the people we spend the most time with.

We often spend more hours with the people we work with than we do our social circle, so it becomes even more critical that we are aligned with the right people at work.  The people you choose to surround yourself with at work absolutely plays a role in who you become in the work place. And having close friends at work can hinder your career.

The people we spend the most time with at work, for good or bad, will play a role in influencing who we become.  So choose wisely.

Instead of friendships, choose working relationships. These are connections that inspire and are positively work focused: People who can be mentors, those you can learn from, and people ahead of you.  Choose positive connections with leaders over peer friendships.

In my first month in my sales career as a young 24 year old, I wasn’t connected to anyone I worked with. I was in outside sales, so I spent all of my work time alone, and the only people in the company I knew were my managers. I didn’t realize this at the time, but this was incredibly advantageous because the only person I was learning from, seeking advice from, and being influenced by was a woman who was ahead of me in her career. She trained and coached and led me without any outside peer influence for my first month. Focused on myself, my work, and connected only to a mentor who wanted to help me succeed, I became a top sales rep very quickly.

Fast forward to month two, I ended up in a territory where there was another woman my same age working nearby. She and I would connect through the phone, and sometimes meet for lunch in town.  She was the first person outside of my manager that I was connected to who was doing the same work I was doing.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that this sales rep was average.  She was a very nice person, did her job, but she was not as positive, ambitious, or as company aligned as I was.  She was different than me, and wasn’t getting the same great results that I was.  She made excuses, took long lunches, and was satisfied with hitting the minimum standards for performance.  I knew that she was not who I wanted to be, and if I hung around with her and became buddies, I’d end up aligned with someone I did not want to become.

I had a decision to make. Did I want a friend at work or career success?

I chose my career.

I remember making a conscious choice to stay friendly, but to disconnect a bit to stay focused on my own mindset and goals. It was the right decision.  By the end of that year, she had left the company, and I was promoted into a training position.

Throughout my years in management, I’ve watched similar scenarios play out with so many women.  Some choose friendships, some choose their careers.  But what I have concluded is that women who are more worried about being popular, or having close friendships at work are usually not the same women who are leading teams, managing projects, and successfully moving forward.  They are not the ones moving ahead in their careers.

Don’t get me wrong, you can have good connections, be well liked, and be friendly with others at work.  Leaders do all of those things.  But I strongly encourage any woman who wants to move ahead to be very careful of prioritizing friendships at work, and to be conscious of who you choose to align with.  Even seemingly positive friendships at work may end up to be a hindrance to your career down the road.


  1. Who you hang around with can influence your thinking. Like it or not, someone may start out optimistic and end up changing, or not be as good of an influence as they initially seemed.  If you have a friend who is negative, or starts struggling, you’ll not only pick up her negative energy, but will also put you in an uncomfortable position to potentially become a complainer.  Misery loves company and you don’t want to be caught deciding between loyalty to your friend or your job.  Friendships sometimes fall apart.  You don’t want to be pulled down at work trying to be a good friend or uncomfortable because you now work with an ex-friend.
  2. Some women get jealous of other women’s success. I’ve seen this happen countless times where female friendships hold women back at work, because consciously or unconsciously someone doesn’t want to be “too successful” and outshine their best friend, or make them look or feel bad. Insecure women make other women feel badly when they do well, and a close friendship with someone like this can lead to very uncomfortable situations where workplace jealousy turns into bad feelings or behavior. You don’t want to feel badly doing well, or stuck with a friend at work who secretly resents your success.
  3. Close friendships at work are a distraction and can hinder your job focus. Women who are successful are focused on work, and less focused on having a close social circle during working hours.  Notice top leaders in the organization are well liked and friendly, but not socially focused.  The socially focused women at work are frequently distracted and distracting, and can really hold you back from job focus and success.
  4. You can’t be friends with your employees. If your goal is to grow into a leadership role, there is always a transition into managing people that can be really challenging if your team is full of people that you are friends with.  As a manager, there must be a professional line in the sand that puts you in the role of boss, and others in the role of employee.  In order to effectively manage others, that line cannot be crossed or blurry. Changing from friend to boss comes with a huge set of challenges and baggage when you know each other intimately and now need to create distance in your relationship.

Women who grow into leadership positions are positive, aligned with company values, totally work focused, and less concerned about making friends. Keeping yourself on a path to leadership and growth means having healthy work relationships, and saving friendships for people outside your work circle.

So rather than focusing on friendship at work, focus on connections with inspiring people that are leaders in places you want to go.  Focus more on friendships outside of work, and within the workplace find a great mentor, stay connected with your direct manager, and use your connections to learn and build your career. Focus on learning, understanding, and evolving by getting to know the work of the people ahead of you in their careers.  Notice who has admirable qualities and leadership roles within the organization and align with them in a focused and professional way.


About the Author — Brandi McGoldrick has been in leadership for two decades, with a focus primarily on women as they build their careers and grow into leaders. She started her career in sales and then expanded into training, sales management, sales support, new product development, and developed several multi-million dollar sales and customer fulfillment teams. She’s hired, trained, managed and mentored countless women into award winning leaders throughout her career. She is currently a freelance consultant, writer, and mentor to women in leadership. She lives in Kane County, IL with her husband and two children.

written by:
Brandi McGoldrick