The idea of friendship applies as much to our personal lives as it does to our professional ones. In fact, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs places a sense of belonging right up there with some of our most basic human needs. Studies conducted by Gallup, show having friends in the workplace makes you more engaged and happy, and that companies enjoy higher profitability and customer loyalty when friendships among colleagues are common. But how do you navigate the fine line of being a friend who also has to set boundaries as a boss?
Can Bosses and Employees Be Friends?
The modern workplace is vastly different to what it used to be. Today it’s not uncommon for the founder of a start-up to be younger than some of the team members he or she manages. Job promotions can place one peer in charge of their friends. The CEO of a small business may find the process of upscaling a challenge as roles become more formalised and the business becomes more serious.
In a survey which examined the main challenges of nearly 300 first-time managers, almost 66% of respondents cited the transition from friend to boss as their biggest hurdle.
The good news, is that navigating the boss-friend dynamic needn’t be as tricky as you think.
Benefits of Friends at Work
Research shows that employee performance is significantly enhanced when co-workers develop a strong friendship. As a boss, there are benefits to becoming closer to your employees:
Increased trust: Knowing an employee well can translate to increased levels of trust and understanding in the workplace.
Loyalty: Strong bonds outside of work can forge an increased sense of loyalty at work.
Support: A mutual friendship makes it easier to ask for help, can increase knowledge sharing and improve confidence.
Better communication: Maintaining communication within a friendship can translate into better communication professionally too.
Happiness: Being friends and forming bonds with employees enables you to speak freely, share frustrations and successes, and generally increase feelings of happiness.
Despite these benefits, transitioning from friend to boss still brings about changes in the relationship that need to be acknowledged by both parties.
Common Challenges When Transitioning from Friend to Boss
Inconsistency: It’s tough stepping in to reprimand a friend, but it’s important to maintain consistency across the board.
Taking sides: Jumping to the defence of a friend is easy to do, but as the boss, it’s your responsibility to be as impartial as possible and look at the whole picture before making decisions.
Resentment: Other colleagues may find it hard to respect your new position and test the boundaries. It’s important to communicate and ensure you both know what the boundaries are.
Oversharing: As the boss, you should be able to speak freely and share frustrations with friends but beware of oversharing sensitive company information. Employees don’t need to know every problem the company experiences.
Blaming: Having a friend you can trust at work is great for support, but don’t take frustrations out on them in the hopes that they can take it better than the employees you aren’t as close with.
Exhaustion: it can become emotionally draining to maintain the care-free friend persona while juggling stress, other work relationships and valuable business goals.
10 Ways to Be the Boss and a Friend
- Talk about the ‘power shift’: Acknowledging the changing dynamics is the first step to ensuring your friendship stays strong even in the context of business. Don’t assume the uneasiness will disappear if you ignore it, or that the change in roles will naturally balance itself out.
- Be fair: Don’t feel the need to downplay your friendships with employees but be sensitive to the feelings of other staff members. Stay consistent in your treatment of everyone so that no one feels betrayed by any seemingly special favours.
- Get to know all your employees: Personal preferences shouldn’t get in the way of cultivating good relationships with employees, so try to get to know everyone.
- Avoid gossip: Gossip between two colleagues is one thing but as the boss, it’s your job to avoid this completely and know when to step away or speak up.
- Find someone else to talk to: It goes without saying that as the boss, you’re privy to more information than anyone else. That said, avoid the need to share too much information with friends and rather find a suitable peer to discuss relevant matters. You can also speak to a neutral party who has no ties to your organisation.
- Be okay with not being liked: You’re not always going to be popular and that’s something you have to accept. Resolve conflict where you can but always remember that it’s up to you to make the tough decisions.
- Don’t always take yourself too seriously: Just because you’re the boss it doesn’t mean you can’t take some downtime with your team to unwind and relax. Working with people you respect, and who respect you back, will ensure that socialising and friendships are easy to separate from working relationships.
- Mind your language: It’s easy to fall into friend mode with employees you’re close to but remember at work it’s important to also command respect, so you must find a balance.
- Hire the right people: Invest in a solid recruitment strategy to find potential hires that fit your company culture. Employ people who naturally understand and can navigate the line between friend and boss without pushing the boundaries. Look for employees who can respect you while still feeling comfortable enough to speak openly to you.
- Don’t cross the line: Six in 10 managers say they are uncomfortable being friended on Facebook by their bosses or the employees they oversee, so even if you like to cultivate friendships, be aware that not every employee will want the same dynamic.