Workplace “Frenemies”: How to handle them at work

By Adam Johnston on 15 October 2014

Trying to stay ahead in the rat race can be especially tricky if your colleague happens to be a friend outside the workplace. It is commonplace for people to socialise with their colleagues overtime, which makes the competition just that little bit more complicated.

Thankfully, it does not have to be a zero-sum game in which either you or your workplace ‘frenemies’ must lose.

Here are three simple principles to observe in such situations, without wading into the murky world of office politics and backstabbing:


The politics of envy can be disastrous, and friendships tend to be tested at work when jealousy takes root. While factors like remuneration and job titles are beyond your circle of control, you can leverage controllable factors to strengthen or repair a friendship at a workplace.

Going the extra mile to help your friend at work can pay dividends. Kind and selfless gestures are seldom forgotten, and help rendered will usually sow the seeds for a healthy work relationship.


Appropriateness is not synonymous with aloofness or professionalism. There is a time and place to be taken seriously without being robotic about it. Likewise, it is perfectly acceptable to have light-hearted and personal conversations at work.

Such conversations are part of the team-building tapestry, and are especially important when you have aspirations to climb the corporate ladder later.

That said, building rapport may occasionally backfire, especially in serious situations when you need to be taken seriously, and can lead to misunderstandings if you are not intentional with your actions.

It is, therefore, very important to set clear boundaries at work with your friends, through clear communication and body language.


Navigating friendships in the workplace can be tricky. Coupled with the pressure to perform, this leaves room for potential misunderstanding and jealousy.

This is why learning how to apply tact when interacting with your co-workers is crucial to maintaining a healthy relationship. Learn when to be diplomatic and when to walk away from a situation if you feel it may interrupt your work life.

Learn to deal with frenemies with professionalism

When dealing with potentially sticky situations such as performance reviews or working together on a project, learn to keep your emotions neutral and remember to consider your choice of words.

Have a piece of knowledge that will improve work performance and productivity? Start with simple suggestions like these and you will be surprised how much goodwill can permeate the workplace.

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