Can Managers and Employees Be Friends?

Let’s say you just got a new job in a management position. As you settle into the new role, you notice that your employees go to lunch together, they go out for drinks on Friday evenings, they even make plans to get together on weekends—but they never invite you along. Do they not like you? Are you doing something wrong as the new boss?

SEE ALSO: Why Facebook Employees Are More Productive, Motivated, and Satisfied

On the other hand, maybe you really hit it off with one of your new employees. You have a similar sense of humor, you share similar interests, and seem like you could be good friends. Is it OK to invite this person to have lunch or hang out outside of work?

These are common questions that managers face regarding workplace friendships. And the simple answer is: it’s complicated. 

Managers can (and should) be friendly with their employees. They should make conversation and get to know their team members. But they also need to set boundaries and ensure that the relationship stays professional.

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No matter how well you get along with employees, at the end of the day, you’re still their boss. You assign tasks, review their performance, make decisions on promotions and raises, and have the responsibility of delivering constructive criticism and, sometimes, laying off or firing them. Friendship can complicate that dynamic and make it difficult to do your job effectively, which should always be your number one priority.

Even if you are able to remain unbiased about work friends, other employees may not perceive the relationship that way. If you give your friend a big client, an interesting project, or a raise, people may wonder whether that client/project/raise was actually warranted or if it was simply a handout to a friend. This perception problem could put your own job at risk if rumors spread, morale suffers, or executives feel your relationships are interfering with your ability to manage.

What about social media? Should you be Facebook friends with your employees or follow each other on Instagram, Snapchat, etc.? This is a decision you’ll have to make for yourself, but it might be good to know that in one survey, 6 in 10 managers said they feel uncomfortable being Facebook friends with their bosses or employees. And nearly half of respondents said they prefer not to connect with coworkers on Facebook.

It might be best to give it some time and get a feel for a new job before deciding whether to connect with coworkers on social media. Ultimately, you might want to stick to LinkedIn for professional connections while keeping your other social media accounts private.

This isn’t to say that managers should lock themselves in their office and refuse to interact with employees. Having conversations with employees and listening to their ideas/concerns/feedback/ambitions will make you a better leader and allow you to help employees develop and grow. You just need to ensure you’re setting boundaries and not allowing friendships to supersede your managerial responsibilities.

It’s a balancing act, but one that managers must master in order to lead.

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