Still holding onto an outdated anti-fraternization policy no one reads anyway? Time to embrace a progressive philosophy that ENCOURAGES personal relationships among co-workers. Let’s review the advantages – and address the perceived dangers.

See the smart, lovely, compassionate ladies in the photo with me? We all met at work (except one, who we met through a co-worker, not pictured). Prior to joining that shared employer, we were complete strangers. No LinkedIN connections or common Facebook friends. Several years later, these women are some of my closest, most trusted besties.

Outside of work, various formations of us have brunched, karaoked, gone dancing, attended weekly yoga class, and joined a book club. We’ve been to each other’s homes. Our spouses have become friends. These activities bonded us more deeply than any corporate-sanctioned team-building exercise. And it was all a huge win for our employer. Why?

Co-worker Friendship = Job Satisfaction = Higher Productivity

If you genuinely like the people you work with day in and out, that’s naturally going to enhance your happiness on the job. Numerous studies have shown that happy workers are more productive. See findings from performance and health experts the GCC (Global Corporate Challenge) last year:

Key to a strong, buzzing, contented work culture? Close-knit friendships. During my first couple years at that company, I dreaded the annual holiday party. The last thing I wanted to do on my Saturday night off was force small talk with people I didn’t really know. However, after forming close relationships with many colleagues, the last several holiday parties were some of the highlights of the year!

That jovial spirit extended to the office. Some days we laughed until our sides ached. And on the inevitable tough days, we commiserated, and I was grateful for my support sisters. Yet we were always cognizant of balancing water cooler chitchats with hard work, never sacrificing a deadline because we were too busy gabbing. Some weeks were so busy we’d barely exchange words. We’d hang on a Saturday just to catch up!

Elevated Teamwork

If one of those gals needed assistance on a task or asked me to cover when sick, she knew I had her back. If the same was requested by a coworker I didn’t know (or worse, one I disliked), I can’t honestly guarantee I’d give the same 200%. Sure, I don’t want to let the company down. But I really, really, really don’t want to let my friend down.

Over the years, we enthusiastically collaborated on a multitude of projects. We relished pooling our creativity, devising innovative solutions to pertinent issues, and brainstorming new corporate improvements. We actually cared. It wasn’t uncommon to text a work idea or question after-hours. All of this dedication and camaraderie benefited our employer.

Loyalty / Retention

Only two of the women pictured remain at our once mothership employer. However, across the board, the most compelling reason we each stayed as long as we did was our friendship. Many of us would’ve left sooner otherwise.

The Risks

The argument for an anti-fraternization policy is to protect company and employees from situations that may cause workplace discomfort or disruption and, potentially, legal action. The two biggest offenders are (1) Intra-office dating and (2) Manager/subordinate personal relationships.

The fear in either case is that unfair favoritism could ensue or, conversely, retaliation should the relationship go awry. Well… sure, that’s a possibility… if your company is comprised of emotionally unintelligent, unprofessional individuals. There are often a few who can’t handle the freedom. So, be a manager and address those behavioral inadequacies. Don’t lower the standards of the whole organization.

Bottom line: like stubbornly enforcing an antiquated 8-5 schedule, or banishing work-from-home flexibility, policing your employee relationships screams that you don’t trust them to behave like professionals. That’s not going to retain you the A+ employees.

Intra-office dating can get a little complicated.  But do you honestly expect to control employees’ romantic feelings? When I was 17, I worked at a mall restaurant where everyone dated everyone. It was like a Midwestern Vanderpump Rules – though less sleazy. And it was exciting! I looked forward to going to work. There was occasional drama in the break room, but we kept it behind-the-scenes. Customers still got served their food with a smile.

Assuming it’s mutually desired, if a personal relationship blooms between manager and employee, the positives (job satisfaction/productivity, enhanced teamwork, loyalty/retention) almost always outweigh the negatives. In the rare instance when an adverse repercussion results, deal with the performance or interpersonal deficiency as you would any other conflict. Don’t ban all relationships in the first place. Do you want to cultivate a mature, organic atmosphere that values individual accountability? Or an environment where employees’ every interaction feels micromanaged due to fear and mistrust?

I’ve engaged in social escapades with colleagues of all organizational levels. One friend (Supervisor while I was Coordinator) and I arranged play dates with our kids at the park. Another (Director to my Coordinator) attended a weekend sci-fi convention with me in Chicago. No one suddenly spilled pay grade-crossing confidences just because we were out of business attire. And I wasn’t teacher’s pet back in the office. We respected the boundaries.

So go ahead and sponsor a company softball team. Have a mid-day Team Trivia challenge. Organize an off-site fishing expedition. Let your employees come out from behind their computers and get to know each other. At my current employer, Friday wrap-up meetings are often 40% business-talk / 60% shooting the breeze. Typically over a beer.