Should you befriend your employees? The quick answer is no, but hear me out. Those of you who know me, also know that I believe managers need to care about their staff. In fact I devoted an entire chapter in my new book to this topic. But caring for your staff is different than trying to become friends with your staff.
Friendships are typically two-way relationships that have a certain amount of give and take. They also involve choice and in a good friendship, both parties usually care about each other to a certain extent. If they don’t the friendship will eventually fracture.
While you need to care about your employees, you should not expect that your employees are going to care about you. If you do, you are setting yourself up for a dysfunctional working relationship. Most employees will care about a good boss but this doesn’t automatically make them friends with you. While there are exceptions to this rule, here are some reasons why trying to befriend your employees is a bad idea.
1. You have authority.
Because of your position alone, it makes it difficult to carry on a traditional friendship. As a boss you carry a certain amount of influence in an employee’s life. Fire them and you turn their world upside down. Write them a bad performance review and they miss a bonus. Reprimand them and they may be stressing out about their job security. Your relationship is what I call “weighted,” and because of this it is very difficult to retain a natural friendship.
2. You have a job to do.
One of your roles as a manager is to hold your team to a certain standard in order to accomplish your goals. This almost always involves calling people higher at some point along the way, and this can put a strain on any relationship. This dynamic is expected in society between boss and employee, but is rarely found between two friends. If you are a close friend to an employee you may find it hard to challenge them when they underperform. This will hurt the team and the organization. They also may be offended when you do challenge them and this creates all kinds of unwanted office drama.
3. You can’t afford to show favoritism.
Even if you can have a close friendship with an employee, you probably cannot be good friends to all of your direct reports. When this happens it sets the stage for perceived favoritism. Even when you are trying your hardest to be fair, people still may accuse you of playing favorites. Befriending some of your staff can complicate matters here.
While befriending your staff is not a good idea, caring for them is. We don’t want to go back to the old days where the officers never mixed with the crew. That type of separation can breed resentment and does not lead to engaged employees. Your employees want to know that you care about them as people. Most of them are not expecting you to be their friend. As a manager, take regular time to show genuine interest in each of your direct reports. This is why it is a good habit to know something about your direct reports such as the name of their spouse, how many kids they have and maybe a hobby of theirs. When your employees feel you care, they are more willing to give you their trust.
A good boss-employee relationship will have many aspects of a good friendship, but as a boss you should never try and get your friendship needs met by your employees.