April 7, 2017

Striking a Balance Between Being a Friend and a Boss


Being part of a business usually means being part of an ecosystem of people who are in constant interaction with one another. In a setting in which you are in close contact with the same people on an everyday basis, you tend to create relationships with these people. Still, is the ‘friend and boss’ relationship possible?

This often leads to not simply work relationships, but real friendships. Your coworkers talk to you about personal issues and these relationships often lead to friendships and contact outside of work.

While there’s certainly nothing wrong with employees developing close personal relationships with one another, the dynamic between the boss and employee is a bit different.

As a leader, managers and bosses have to be careful of the way they conduct themselves with their employees. There are lines that should not be crossed, for a variety of reasons. If you are a boss or manager, it’s all about balance when it comes to becoming friends with your employees.

On one hand, you should avoid extremely close personal friendships with employees, but on the other, you need to let them know you care about them as individuals, not just as workers.

friend and boss

Why You Can’t Be Best Friends

When you are leading a team, you have more responsibilities. Those responsibilities include making tough decisions and evaluating employees.

Imagine having to evaluate someone who is very close to you. Or imagine having to fire a person you became good friends with over the years.

Kim Scott, co-founder of Candor, Inc, says that good bosses need to show that they care on a personal level. However, she also says that good managers need to challenge their employees directly. According to Kim, employees need guidance, not close friendships from their managers. This balance is something she calls Radical Candor.

Fairness is Important

As a leader, you need to avoid any perception of favoritism, and helping out a buddy at work is the definition of favoritism. Employees notice favoritism almost instantly and the resentment starts building up fast. If you are going out for drinks every night with one of your employees and hanging out with that person on the weekends, be certain that all of your other staff members will notice.

This can lead to the creation of a perception of favoritism and unfair treatment, even if it does not really exist.

Other will think that they have no chance at growth opportunities and that the employees you are closest with will end up being the ones who will most likely receive raises and promotions that aren’t based on performance.

Career development opportunities should be strictly based on performance and skills. That’s why you need to make sure that everyone in your team knows that they share the same advancement opportunities that are strictly based on the merit and most importantly, you need to avoid creating the perception that there are certain employees who might have a leg up on the rest because of their close personal relationship with you.

Tough Decisions are Inevitable

When you’re friends with an employee, you have a hard time seeing existing flaws or setting your personal feelings aside when necessary. For example, you may overlook their mistakes because you have an emotional connection with them.

Your friendship with an employee should never influence your decisions about raises, assignments and layoffs. Firing bad employees is an unavoidable part of your job and you can’t hold someone to a different set of performance criteria just because you are friends.

Letting go of the underperforming employees is something that you have to do, regardless of how much you might be clicking with them on a personal level.

Evaluations are Necessary

All managers evaluate and challenge their employees. It’s a part of the job.

If you befriend someone at work, they might get the impression that they are above evaluation and discipline.

Also, friends don’t really challenge each other at work. In business, challenging employees is necessary for any kind of progress. Effective managers must constantly be in analyzing employee performance and be willing to point out an employee’s shortcomings – something that’s almost impossible to do correctly when that person if your good friend.

There are best practices when it comes to performing employee evaluations, and leaving personal feelings and personality traits out of performance reviews is one of them.

being a boss and a friend

How To Strike a Balance Between Being a Boss and a Friend

It is up to you to find the balance between being friendly with your employees and being a good manager to them. The good news is that you don’t have to be cold to your employees in order to establish authority.

You don’t have to be best friends with your employees in order to show them that you care about them.

Be an equally good mentor to all your employees and show empathy for them. Challenge them and show that you care about their careers and personal lives. There are lines that can and must be drawn.

Here are a few things you can do to find the perfect balance.

Be Supportive

Friends want the best for each other, right? The same goes for your team.

If they are going through a difficult time, show them you are willing to help and give them advice. You can show empathy for their problems without getting involved in them personally.

You don’t have to be best buddies with your employees in order to know their strengths and support their growth. If you really want what’s best for them, invest in their knowledge and skills. Teach them how to succeed. After all, they are your most important asset at work.

Be Honest

All strong relationships are built on honesty. And just like a good friend would tell you when you are doing something wrong no matter how much it hurts, a good manager will use open communication to help employees become better at what they do.

Honesty is one of the best principles you can use to establish a healthy balance between caring your employees and leading them professionally. The closer you get to someone on a personal level, the harder it becomes to give them honest feedback as employees.

Be Trusting and Understanding

Trust builds friendships, but it also builds healthy and productive relationships between bosses and staff.

When you trust your employees, you inevitably give them more freedom. Take scheduling work hours for example. Give them independence to request shift trades among themselves. By doing this, you show that you trust them to organize their time the right way. In return, you will get satisfied employees who love going to work every day because they know they are doing a good job. Let them communicate their shift preferences. Show them that you understand that they have lives outside of work and that you respect those outside obligations.

The bottom line is that there are many ways to gain the respect and admiration of your employees without creating personal relationships with them that can end up having a negative effect on your workplace dynamic.