In an article in Smart Money (the online version) writer Catey Hill talks about several things your boss won’t tell you. These include: “I am reading your emails”, “I think you are too old”, “I know when you are faking it”, “Your kid is your problem”, “I can be your best friend or your worst enemy”, “I don’t have time for you”, and “It’s all about me.” All the sections were interesting but the one that really caught my eye and raised a question was about the boss being a friend. It made me wonder “Can a boss be a friend?
After giving it some thought my answer is “No”. I think bosses can be friendly, but there has to be a line in a working relationship that should not be crossed. In Hill’s article 6 out of 10 employees consider their boss to be a friend. I guess that leads to the question of “what do you mean by friend?” You will have decide on your own definition of that. Let’s take a look at the relationship from both sides.
From the employee’s point of view having your boss be your friend has an upside and a downside. The upside may be, as Hill says “Being the boss’s pal, or pet, comes with perks.” You may get plum assignments, more attention, more money, more lienient treatment. Again Hill says “Good relationships tend to lead to higher worker engagement; compatibility can help a worker get a raise or a promotion; everyone likes to work with people they like and trust.”
The downside may involve hurt feelings and wounded pride when the personal relationship takes second place to work and the necessity of the business alters a work assignment, or a reporting relationship, or a performance evaluation is not good, or a raise is not given. Friendship can be damaged in these situations. Additionally, if by being a “friend” the boss now learns something about you on an outside of work basis that now gets brought into the work relationship and gets used against you then both the work and personal relationships are damaged.
Now let’s look at this from the standpoint of the boss. The upside includes the following. As a boss you want to be liked. Particularly if you are the same age as most of your direct reports. This may be the best group from which to draw your friends. This is multiplied if you were promoted from a peer group and these people were your friends. You may want to show that you are caring by being friends and knowing personal details about employees and their families. It gives you a social life in some situations. Having cooperative and friendly employees makes the group more productive and makes you look better.
The downside from the boss’ point of view. You wonder if people are your friends because of you or your position. Is someone trying to take advantage of me in order to get better assignments or more money. Are they using my friendship as a power play over others. Is my friendship with someone being viewed as something else by others. Will I be accused of trying to have a romantic relationship with a friend. What happens when I have to give a negative review to, or discipline, or terminate a friend due to their work performance. Will I be able to do that. What are the consequences to me if I am forced to choose between a friend and the company?
I am sure you can think of other reasons this type of “friendship” would not work. Or you may be able to list a number of reasons they do work. Part of that would depend on the closeness of the friendship. I have had bosses who felt they were friends and then went on to show how sloppy of a drunk they were or demonstrated their “pick up lines”. I didn’t consider our friendship to be close enough to warrent that behavior. In my boss-employee relationship I prefer that there be some distance to allow me to make decisions as a boss as needed or as an employee as needed.
My point of view may be due to the types of companies I grew up in. I have not had a place of employment where I was friends first and then joined the company. My work friendships started as work relationship first. So I would be interested in hearing from other who have had “boss as friend” work well for them. It can be a complicated relationship for many, so let us know if it can work.
In summary, I don’t think it can work. It is complicated by culture, gender, ages and the social environment. And if your overriding responsibility is to the business friendships can get in the way.
If you want to read the Smart Money article you can find it here.
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