Having friends at work can improve your overall office experience. Just having someone to eat lunch with or talk to before a big meeting can make your days seem shorter and more meaningful.
But regardless of how well you get along with someone at work or how close you think you are, you have to remember that they are your coworker. Creating boundaries for workplace friendships can be difficult, but they are necessary. Think about it: Keeping a little distance can prevent you from sneaky unwanted repercussions on your professional life, like an embarrassing secret getting out or a bad reputation forming around your blurred lines.
We’ve outlined a few easy steps for preventing your workplace friendship from crossing dangerous boundaries you definitely want to avoid. You know, without it being super-awkward. You don’t need to wear a keep-away sign. Just do these things.
1. Don’t gossip
While gossiping about other colleagues can be tempting, avoid doing so with your workplace friend. They could have a relationship with the other coworker you are mentioning, which could cause friction between you, your friend and said coworker. But even worse, you could get the reputation as an untrustworthy employee or, worse, the office gossip.
2. Don’t bad-mouth your boss
Or any superiors for that matter. Frankly, you shouldn’t be bad-mouthing anyone at work, but you should especially avoid saying negative things about those who could, um, fire you. While we all feel the need to vent about work every once in a while, do so on your own time. Talk about your frustrations with your friends, family or spouse — essentially anyone who isn’t employed by your company.
3. Be cautious about divulging personal information
As cool as your work friend may seem, they may not take kindly to the fact that you were out at a concert until 2 a.m. the night before work, regardless of how well you’re functioning that day. Every person has different hobbies, interests and lifestyles — and they may not understand those of others. Try to maintain a divide between your work life and your personal life. Talk about light things, like your cute cat or their obsession with chocolate.
4. Be cautious about posting on social media
If your work friend follows you on social media, beware of what you post and how it could reflect on you as an employee. While screenshots and screen-recordings are amazing technological developments, they can also be used against you.
5. Be clear about remaining unbiased
Your work friend should never assume you will take their side in meetings or support a professional venture of theirs simply because you’re friends. And you shouldn’t assume they’ll behave this way either. Make sure you treat them the same way you treat your other colleagues.
6. Be realistic about your relationship
Consider the most negative outcome possible: a falling-out. Never reveal information you wouldn’t want to be used against you if your friendship ended on bad terms. Don’t forget to put your career first and protect your position at the company along with your professional relationship with your boss and other colleagues. Use caution in your interactions and realize it might not work out.
7. Be professional
The most important rule is to always maintain your professionalism. If you’re questioning whether or not to act a certain way with your work friend, the answer is probably no. And on that note, don’t drink too much alcohol around them. Come on, everyone.
A version of this post previously appeared on Fairygodboss, the largest career community that helps women get the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits and work flexibility. Founded in 2015, Fairygodboss offers company ratings, job listings, discussion boards and career advice.