Being friends with your employees requires clear boundaries

Updated May 29, 2019
Photo: Kumar Appaiah/FlickrPhoto: Kumar Appaiah/Flickr

If you’ve ever watched a few episodes of “The Office” you’ll quickly notice one of the reasons why Michael Scott has trouble running his branch.

Aside from being a bumbling idiot, Michael Scott is also toeing the oh-so-thin line of being a boss and a friend with his employees. It’s a struggle that many managers face and it’s something that can be hard to find a middle ground on.

When asked whether he would rather be feared or loved, Michael responds that he wants people to be afraid of how much they love him, but sadly you can’t have it both ways without setting up some thorough boundaries.

You should, of course, genuinely care for your employees and their well-being, but you also need to make sure it is clear your relationship is focused on getting work done. If you’re more concerned with having subordinates like you, you can easily fall down the slippery slope of no longer critiquing, disciplining or demoting your staff members if their behavior calls for it.

When you view a person as your friend first and foremost, you won’t be thinking about what’s best for the business but will instead avoid hurting their feelings. While it’s an instinctual desire to be liked, it’s not always something that can be achieved. An employee could have a great personality, but if they aren’t pulling their weight, you’re going to have to warn them, or even fire them if there is no improvement.

Another part of the problem with befriending employees is the fact that you will not be able to have close relationships with every one of your staff. Some of them you will simply get along with better and bonding with some workers more than others will be obvious to those around you. Even if your friend is the best qualified for a job, some might accuse you of favoritism.

A good way to think of a boss-employee dynamic is like that of a doctor and a patient. You want a doctor to care about your well-being, but you don’t want their judgement being clouded either. If you have cancer, you want them to tell you, not hold it back simply to spare your feelings.

Yet in recent years there have been a number of studies showing the benefits of workplace friendships, after all this is where majority of your time is spent. Having friends at work increases employee satisfaction by 50 percent, according to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace poll.

So, does this mean you should start growing friendships with your workers? Yes and no. The previous argument that there can be no form of friendship assumes that there is only one kind. But think about it, you have different circles of friends, and having a workplace one is no different. It is the dynamic that you have to mind.

If you host a cookout for your crews during the summer to thank them for their hard work, are you going to stay aloof the whole time and not talk to anyone? No, of course not. You’ll mix and mingle and joke about things that happened during the work week. There’s nothing wrong with this.

Creating social time within the company allows camaraderie to build, but that is where you have to draw the line. You are still the boss; don’t share your business concerns to those below you. This will lower staff morale and increase negativity. Find a mentor outside your organization to vent these frustrations.

Don’t add employees on social media and don’t pry into their private lives beyond what they volunteer. If you have clear boundaries set as what is considered too chummy, you won’t find yourself falling in the trap of trying to preserve relationships instead of the business.

Positive open relationships are important, and they are founded on respect and trust. These are crucial to having a loyal team. Remember that while your staff can find some of their workplace friends along their ranks, you still have to step up and lead at the end of the day.

The Attachments Idea Book
Landscapers use a variety of attachments for doing everything from snow removal to jobsite cleanup, and regardless of how often they are used, every landscaper has a favorite attachment.
Attachments Idea Book Cover