It’s happened to all of us at some point in our working lives, or if it hasn’t it probably will in the future: you establish a friendship with your manager. 

Or, perhaps you are the manager and you become good friends with members of your team. As a manager, you naturally hire like-minded people and as an employee, you are drawn to managerial figures you admire. So it’s natural to want to be liked – in an ideal world, a leader is both liked and respected. The two are certainly not mutually exclusive.

When you spend so much of your life at work, it's important to forge strong professional relationships. These relationships help make sure you get the most out of your day and work efficiently. It is essential that you develop positive relationships with all members of your team for the benefit of the company that you work for. 

But just how far should these relationships go? Because there is a marked difference between being friendly and being friends but often the line gets blurred.

Should a boss be friends with employees?

With peer-to-peer relationships, work friendships tend to be straightforward. Work is naturally somewhere we create long-lasting friendships and acquaintances. Being friends with a colleague simply means making sure you both behave professionally when you are together at work and not like kids in a playground. 

Being friends with your manager is another matter entirely.

Things can get complicated if you’re managing someone you consider to be a friend, or if you’re developing a close relationship with your boss. Although it’s possible for a boss to be friendly and cordial with their team members, it’s important to keep professional boundaries in mind. Whether you’re the manager or the employee, it’s your responsibility to ensure your personal relationship doesn’t spill over into your working relationship. 

Remember, when you are at work:

  • Your responsibility lies with the company
  • You must act consistently in the company’s best interests
  • Address any issues immediately as they arise
  • Accept the differing levels of seniority when in the office
  • Maintain respect for both relationships
  • Be mindful of favouritism and make sure you’re not giving work friends preferential treatment

Manager-employee friendships are most successful when both parties:

  • Understand the difference between their friendship and working relationship
  • Are transparent and honest with one another
  • Are comfortable saying ‘no’ to one another
  • Know how to disagree respectfully and professionally
  • Know how to set clear boundaries between ‘work time’ and ‘friend time’

Don’t let work friendships tarnish team dynamics

The friend versus manager conundrum gets trickier still when you realise you need to take into account the perception of the wider team. 

Could your friendship be interpreted as favoritism for example, which can be extremely disruptive to team dynamics

If your team feels you are being unduly influenced by your friendship with one team member in particular, then the dynamic will be compromised and your leadership can be called into question.

So what’s the answer? 

There isn’t an easy or definitive one. Every individual, every friendship and every organisation is different. The one rule of thumb never to lose sight of is that while your friendship may have begun at work, the manager versus employee relationship comes first and the friendship secondary to work, while you are on company time.

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