How Can I Separate My Work and Social Life?

working with friends

I work in a small credit union as a temp with a close friend who has been watching me closely at the office. How do I keep work separate from social? I know she is just trying to help me become permanent, but it can be stressful. — Marie, New York  

What came first: the close friendship or the job? If the friendship came first, then it’s probably worth protecting the relationship and giving this person the benefit of the doubt. After church one day, go out by yourselves. Ask her if you can talk about something that’s bothering you, and then be honest. First, say that you really want this job to become permanent and you appreciate her help to make it happen. Next, ask if she could give you a little breathing room because working so closely with a friend makes you nervous (and you don’t want to screw up).

If she says she’s concerned about mistakes you’re making, ask if she could talk to you about these outside the office. While it’s difficult to hear constructive criticism in any forum, it’s much better to receive it on your home turf where you aren’t under the pressure of the spotlight. 
If the friendship indeed came first, I would take her feedback as valuable. Although it’s possible she feels threatened by your new role, it’s more likely that this is a person with an inside scoop who genuinely wants to assist you.
However, if you became close while working together at the same company, you may want to ask yourself if this person really qualifies as a real friend — someone you trust implicitly with your well-being. You can assess this through questions like: “When I see this person at church, could we make conversation for 10 minutes without mentioning work?” and “Do I regularly hang out with this person one on one, and have I met her significant other or family?” 
If you answer no to these questions, I’d be careful about taking her scrutiny too much to heart.  Maybe her motives are pure, but maybe they aren’t. Until your position becomes permanent, don’t spend a lot of time with her or confide in her too much — either personally or professionally.  Ask for feedback from others on the team so her input is balanced by other perspectives.

Career expert Alexandra Levit is the author of several books, including the best-selling "They Don't Teach Corporate in College," "New Job, New You," and "Blind Spots." She is currently an author of The Fast Track blog by Intuit, a source for workplace, leadership and career advice. Subscribe to The Fast Track for exclusive advice and free expert resources.

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