Personal relationships with co-workers have benefits – and pitfalls

By | April 14, 2019

Ask pastry chef Ron Paprocki if he has a problem with his boss, and he’ll say yes, without batting an eye. This, even though the man who determines the size of his paycheck, and can fire him at any time, is sitting right next to him.

“I don’t like the way Bret drives,” says Paprocki.

Bret is Bret Csencsitz. He runs the iconic Gotham Bar and Grill in the West Village, which serves as many as 400 meals each day.

“Ron is annoying. He tries to drive from the passenger’s seat,” says Csencsitz, as both men laugh. They are close friends.

Sure, these restaurateurs know that conventional wisdom warns against mixing business with pleasure, but they have thrown caution to the wind. Their families share Thanksgiving and the Feast of the Seven Fishes together, their sons have become friends and they have even considered taking family vacations together.

“We care about each other and each other’s families,” says Csencsitz.

Whoa. Aren’t there rules about getting too close at work?

If there are, most people aren’t following them. A recent survey conducted by LinkedIn found that 95 percent of working professionals believe it’s a good idea to be friends with co-workers, and 63 percent hang out outside of the office.

Not just that, but according to research by CareerBuilder, 36 percent of employees surveyed reported that they have dated a co-worker. Of those, 31 percent eventually got married.

And when it comes to partying, according to a survey conducted by Niznik Behavioral Health, 60 percent of employees said that their supervisors made acceptable drinking partners. Add to that, almost 49 percent said drinking with your boss will improve your relationship, with almost 24 percent indicating that it will lead to better job opportunities.

Welcome to the workplace of 2019, where personal relationships between co-workers are the norm, and even romantic liaisons aren’t necessarily frowned upon. In fact, many employers actually have policies around colleagues dating, which varies from company to company.

At most, dating a co-worker is just fine, though some employers have begun to implement a “one-date rule,” which says that if you ask a workmate out and they refuse, you’re not allowed to ask again, reports Vanessa Matsis-McCready, assistant general counsel and human resources consultant at Engage PEO.

Other companies require that co-workers who become romantically involved sign “love contracts,” where each party verifies that their relationship is consensual. Some employers even bless relationships between managers and workers, whether they are romantic or not, provided the party in power informs human resources so that adjustments can be made, if needed.

Csencsitz and Paprocki aren’t sure if their co-workers know that they are close friends, but theirs is the kind of relationship that would be celebrated at Brooklyn-based MyBankTracker. The management of the personal-finance Web site recently took their entire staff to the Bahamas. While there were some organized team-building activities, “we wanted to give everyone time to just hang out together,” says Mike Wasserman, the firm’s director of operations.

The company also reserves time at the end of weekly conference calls during which participants can, if they want to, talk about what’s going on outside of work. “They can share as much as they want, about anything,” he says, adding that employees are also welcome to consult management for personal or financial advice.

That sort of thing can be great — or lead to trouble, according to Marianna Strongin, a licensed psychologist and founder of Strong in Therapy on the Upper West Side.

“Millennials, who grew up with their parents as their best friends, tend to mix their work relationships, their social relationships and their hobbies and become too close to their co-workers and bosses,” she says, noting that as a result, they have a hard time setting boundaries.

That’s something that rings true to Rubin Chen, 25, who works in public relations at Soho-based Noon Creative. Speaking of her boss, Chen says, “We pretty much know everything about each other and what we care about, so it’s hard to say no when she asks me for a favor,” even one that falls outside of work hours or the job description.

That kind of situation can lead to problems, according to Strongin, who explains that in an always-connected workplace “you might be talking about work one minute and about a movie the next. That can make an organization feel less hierarchical. So, when your boss shows you their tough side or promotes someone else, it is harder [to deal with].”

Charlie Javice, founder and CEO of Frank, an online platform that aims to overhaul the experience of applying for college financial aid, has put a structure in place to try to prevent those sorts of issues.

Employees of the Midtown firm communicate via Slack during office hours, and those systems are active only between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. While Javice has no problem with workers at the same level texting or communing outside of work, if managers get involved, especially one-on-one with a subordinate, she wants to know.

When it comes to co-workers, “it’s important to think deeply about starting an intimate relationship and sharing the personal details of your life,” she says.

That’s something that has worked out pretty well for Paprocki and Csencsitz, who are an example of a professional-personal workplace blend at its best, says Healthy Business Coaching’s Amina Altai.

“The pro of sharing personal information with your boss is that they can get to you know you deeply,” she says. “They can take the information and help you craft a career that’s aligned with your values, gifts and the impact you want to have on the world.”

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