If you are in a leadership role, then be the boss, not a friend. Nevertheless, one of the things that separate a great manager from a good manager is the manager’s ability to be cordial and friendly with the members of his or her team. Drawing the line between cordiality and friendship can be difficult, but here we discuss some of the reasons why it is best not to be friends with your employees, and why it’s best to keep your relationship on a professional level.
It’s in Our Nature
Humans are social creatures – it’s ingrained in our nature. However, we all gravitate more toward some people than to others. Being amicable with your team is a great way to encourage communication and to motivate, but if you start to approach them as friends, you will naturally be closer to some more than others. The “others” will inevitably question your decisions and perhaps accuse you of favoritism. In fact, some managers do tend to give their closer “friends” more benefits, so the accusation of favoritism might not be far off. If you refrain from being friends with your employees, your decisions will be centered on performance; favoritism will be a baseless accusation.
What’s more, attempts to become friends with your employees can come across as insincere precisely because certain individuals may not be the sort of person with whom you would normally be on friendly terms. You may mean well and you may be trying to be friendly with these people to avoid signs of favoritism, but at the end of the day, we know when others are genuinely interested in getting to know us. Coming across as insincere can undermine your authority and respect; that will make it difficult for you to do your job, let alone make sure your team members are doing theirs.
Professional Responsibility Trumps Personal Relationships
The boss/employee and friend/friend relationships are very different in their essence. Friends are equals, while the boss is by definition the superior. You may think that you can get more out of your team if they are also friends, but remember that ultimately you are in a leadership role and are responsible for all decisions. Where friends can disagree and choose not to go the same route, as management you need to be able to discipline your employees – something that is exceedingly difficult if they are also your friends.
Oversharing can become an issue if you are friends with your employees. You may be struggling with work, and a friend conveniently found in the next office is naturally the person you want to go to in order to offload your problems. However, it is not appropriate for the manager to share the things a person might tell their friend in confidence outside of work. Boundaries are there for a reason in the management world and maintaining an amicable distance with your team will ensure you don’t cross them.
Finally, as management, you are ultimately responsible for whether or not your team members have a job. If you are not satisfied with a team member’s performance, you need to be able to give them the axe and replace them with someone more suited to the job. Being friends with your employees make it that much harder for you to fire them when necessary, and any hesitation based not on merit but on friendship decreases your effectiveness as a manager.
Distant, but Amicable – the Happy Middle Ground
Being an authoritarian manager who takes absolutely no interest in your team will gain you little respect or love amongst its members, but treating them as friends can achieve the same result. Get to know individual team members and approach them in a cordial manner, yet always remember that your job is to be the boss, not to be friends with your employees.