Managers – should you be friends with the staff or on friendly terms?

Managers – should you be friends with the staff or on friendly terms?

July 11, 2024

When you spend a lot of time with colleagues, it’s natural to develop warm relationships with them, and maybe even some genuine, outside-of-work friendships. That’s a good thing, obviously work is more pleasant when you are on good terms.

But when you are the manager, the rules are different. You can be friendly, but you can’t be friends.

The dynamics in a manager – employee relationship make true friendship extremely difficult.

Remember, a manager’s job is to judge employees’ work and make decisions that the colleague may not like or that will affect how and what they do, so the relationship is inherently unequal.

And it’s tough to give someone critical feedback on a project or, say, warn them that their job is in jeopardy when you were gossiping over drinks together the night before. Even if you’re one of the few who can pull it off, other employees are likely to be sceptical of the relationship—and will assume favouritism, whether any really exists.

To quote an adage, “you can be damned if you do and be damned if you don’t”.

A manager and a colleague are friends, and you are all spoken to about an issue in the workplace and then you see your colleague and the manager chatting and laughing shortly thereafter. What are your thoughts?

  1. Its good to know they are friends, but I am sure that in work they maintain a professional relationship.
  2. Why are they laughing when we have all just been told off?
  3. Why is the manager talking to her like that when she was unhappy with me 5 minutes ago.

Putting it straightforwardly, managers and employees can have warm, supportive, and friendly relationships. They can, and good managers will strive for that.

But managers who ignore the distinction between friendly and friends put themselves and the staff they manage staff in the position potentially and where they will not be seen as impartial when there is a need for an awkward or difficult conversation and credibility and respect may be lost as a result.

Employees whose managers aren’t setting appropriate boundaries aren’t always able to push back as they might like to when challenged or when they may have concerns about the manager’s friend. Will the manager want to hear this. How will they take it, and will they blame me?

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