THE BLOG

Why Bosses and Employees Shouldn't Be Friends

09/17/2014 05:49 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 00:55 EDT
Vincent Besnault via Getty Images

Can a boss really be friends with his or her employee? No, according to several human resources professionals. And I agree.

Some years ago, I became good friends with a now-former manager. He and I played squash, had friends and acquaintances in common and supported each other in our personal lives. Then, a client at the firm where we worked decided he wouldn't pay his invoices due to what he called poor service from the account executive on the business -- me. For him to pay his bills, he said I would have to be fired. And fired I was -- by my boss and (I thought) friend. As the adage goes, "Nothing personal, it's just business."

Hiring friends can create similar issues. I was once hired by the second in command to the firm's CEO, who had been a personal friend of mine for many years. Once word of my long-time friendship with the CEO got out, colleagues thought I would keep him posted on office goings-on or have an unfair advantage at performance review time, resentment started to build up. The CEO and I parted company, still friends, shortly thereafter.

Business is global and more competitive than before and managers' loyalty is to the bottom line (and their bonuses). Employees can source 10 job opportunities online during their commute and respond with a resume before the train arrives at the station.

When spending 10 or more hours together in the workplace, relationships (romantic and otherwise) are bound to result.

So, here are 10 reasons why a boss/employee relationship is not a good idea:

  1. Perceptions of favouritism may emerge among the co-workers of the employee who is friends with the boss, leading to resentment.
  2. The employee may be asked by the boss to do something that is business related in support of their friendship, even though they may not agree with the suggested strategy or task.
  3. Lines between a business relationship and friendship can blur at review time. Unless the manager is very generous, the employee may feel short-changed following a salary review. Even if the boss grants a raise, not even the employee will be sure it was performance-related.
  4. It can be difficult for close friends to be critical of one another. Business growth relies on unbiased performance evaluations. It can be even more difficult to fire a friend. Imagine having to terminate a close friend, let alone the impact on the rest of the team.
  5. Some managers and employees strike up friendships with one another as a means to an end. True friendship that lasts is unconditional and based on creating career wins for one another.
  6. The gap between a boss and an employee will always be there in the eyes of management and subordinates. Unlike friendship, this is not a relationship between equals.
  7. Managers are responsible for the productivity of their employees and are paid to monitor their performance as it affects the company's bottom line. Friends encourage but never monitor one another, so this creates a conflict of interest.
  8. In professional relationships such as those with a therapist, accountant, or doctor, the chances of a confidence you shared are far less likely to come back to haunt you as in a corporate environment.
  9. When it comes time for promotions, an employee may have expectations that as a friend, the boss will promote them. A boss needs to go beyond personal feelings and promote the best person for the job, not a friend. This could create tension both in and out of the workplace.
  10. If managers have employees who double as their friends, or have a few friends working on their team, they may take negative feedback in surveys or reviews personally, resulting in personal morale and productivity issues.

Bosses can occasionally be great to hang out with after work but everyone needs to have their own space and lives. The need for a healthy interaction between work and personal life limits the extent of the boss/employee friendship. If you see someone in a stressful work environment five days a week, do you really want to be around him or her in off-work hours?

It is hard to build a close "friendship" with people who also see you as motivator, mentor, coach, and (perhaps occasionally) judge.

If you are a manager who happens to hit it off with one of your employees, be friendly while showing professional courtesy and keeping the boundaries firmly, but respectfully, in place.