Can managers be friends with their employees?

Can managers ever truly be friends with their underlings?

Probably not if they use the term underlings but even with inoffensive terminology, it can be a dilemma. 

On the one hand camaraderie between managers and employees can lead to a happier, more productive working environment as the team are more likely to be invested in your success and more forthcoming with offering feedback and assistance. It encourages better communication as team members are more comfortable sharing ideas and being honest about how they’re feeling. The result is a more motivated, happy and cohesive team. 

On the other hand, being close to those you manage can make it more difficult to deliver negative feedback or assert your authority.

After all, lecturing an employee on workplace etiquette after crying on their shoulder at Friday pints can seem a little hollow.

Alcohol soaked emotion aside, blurring the lines between boss and buddy can cause disgruntlement among the wider team who you’re not as close to – posing questions of favouritism, exclusion or in extreme cases, bullying.

As a manager your decisions need to be based on performance and what’s best for the business. Someone’s personality should rarely be a factor that comes into play.

However, when you have a close friendship with someone on your team it becomes more difficult to make unbiased decisions. What’s even more difficult is that you might not even be aware that someone’s personality is clouding your judgement or affecting your choices. 

So, do blurred lines make it impossible to maintain your authority and command the respect of your team?

Not necessarily. Being in a leadership position doesn’t have to spell the end of workplace friendships. The role has evolved from stoic authoritarian towards a more coaching and mentorship style of management. Leading a team doesn’t have to mean keeping people at arm’s length anymore. 

It does however require you to set ground rules for your relationship. For one, never discuss confidential information with employees. Friendship comes with many privileges but getting the inside scoop on company updates or new colleagues shouldn’t be one of them.

Regardless of how close you may be, you’re leaving yourself in a precarious position if you divulge confidential information to a friend at work. Set boundaries around what topics are ok to discuss with your friends and what’s off the cards. This will save you from future awkwardness. 

Bitching about other people in the company is another serious no-go. Everyone needs the occasional rant but when you’re in a position of authority, you can’t unload on your work friends about their colleagues or partake in their ranting. (Even if Daniel is the most irritating specimen to ever darken the office door.) 

If you don’t want to compromise your career, be transparent with your work friends about the limitations of your friendship. They need to understand that as manager you’re ultimately responsible for the success of the team. That means you can’t allow your personal feelings to bleed into your professional decisions and you can’t star in their midweek midnight Insta stories. 

Find your next managerial role today.

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Author Aoife Geary

Aoife Geary is the Content Editor at Jobbio specialising in the areas of Workplace Culture, Diversity, Startups and Digital Trends. She's partial to a burrito, a bad pun and living way beyond her means.

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