Can a Boss and an Employee be Friends?

Image courtesy of Waag Society's photostream

Image courtesy of Waag Society’s photostream

Have you ever hired an employee and thought, “This is a really cool person, we could be friends outside of work!”? Before you start planning happy hour or want to introduce him or her to your significant other, there are a few key things to consider.

Can you truly be a boss? – A boss who tries to be friends with a member of his or her staff may run into problems. Part of being a boss is to understand how to draw the line between professional boundaries, and being a friend. You can and should care about your employees as people, want the best for them and develop warm and supportive relationships with them. But you also need to make sure they view you as their boss and not a regular with them down at the corner bar. To do that, properly communicate with your employees. For example, if an employee is out of the office one day and he or she told you it was family-related, follow up with him or her the next day and ask how everything is. This will mean a great deal to the employee because not only did you remember about it, but you asked with genuine concern. Don’t text the person and say “Hey girl what’s wrong with your kid?” That is not professional.

What will others think? – If you decide that you want to have a friendship with a coworker outside of the office, just know that everyone will have an opinion about the situation. So to avoid other managers or employees’ ‘looks’ when befriending an employee, make sure you keep it even for everyone else. If you ask Betty about her night last night, you ask Frank as well.

It’s not personal, it’s business. – You may have to give feedback or reviews to members of your staff and by being friends with them they may think you will be laid back about it. Your job is to judge their work and make decisions that will improve the department and the company as a whole. You need to remain unbiased enough that you can give an honest evaluation of their work, provide feedback and even potentially fire that person one day.

From personal experience at a previous company, I was an assistant manager and she was the property manager. We were also very close in age so we developed a friendship over time. We got along great at a professional level at first, and then we became Facebook friends and eventually went out for happy hours after work, etc. It was great to be friends and I have a good story from it. She was even invited to my wedding after I left the company because we still continued that friendship. But how different it could have been if for some reason she had to let me go, or would have complained about my work. I don’t think we would have been able to continue a friendship.

So, to sum it all up, I really don’t think you can be friends with the people you manage, at least not in the true meaning of the word “friend.” You can have working relationships with them, but you cannot be friends with them the way coworkers are with each other.

Pamela McCafferty

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