Be Friendly With, But Not a Friend Of, Subordinates

Managers approach the line of friendship where we all naturally tread: we want better connections, and we want to know the people we work with as friends. Dealing with professional boundaries is one of the greatest challenges in staying productive. Lines are often blurry because so much time is spent at the workplace. In fact, most people are spending much of their life on the job, even when working from home.

Managers who are paid by performance and profit need to keep their head in the game at all times, knowing that some workers can take advantage of a boss’ friendliness in trying to get unearned pay raises, biased reviews, extra training nominations, and more. The smart business person will know just how far friendly can go while keeping their mind on targeted objectives to succeed with their work goals.

The effective manager knows how to be friendly, informal, and motivate the team, but anyone in authority also needs to understand where a healthy limit of friendship with allows the team to stay focused for moving the business forward. The work pendulum is always a two-way street; workers are trying to earn money, and bosses are trying to control expenses while getting everything done. Let’s explore both the good and the bad of employee-employer relationships and define a professional limit where the friendliness should stop before it gets to be too late.

On the down side, becoming friends with your workers can tear down team dynamics, make necessary employee corrections difficult to carry out, and negatively affect accurate performance reviews. Some struggling workers need guidance, or sometimes even firing, and you will not be ready when you are friends with that person and possibly friends with his or her family. Your delay in carrying out necessary corrective actions could be disastrous for your bottom line, and this negatively impacts all the reasons you are in business—for improving the lives of yourself and your family.

Most managers have stories about having to let go of employees who became friends yet were not good for business. Situations can clearly get out of hand when managers feels they cannot fire an unproductive person for attached personal reasons that have nothing to do with the job. At the same time, promoting work friends who are subordinates is sure to be looked at by your employee team as favoritism, even when that friend is a top performer. Hopefully, situational resentments will not create even worse circumstances that eventually have the power to close down the business.

Strained bonds between employers and employees can happen in a heartbeat. On the other hand, great professional relationships are maintained through clearly defined parameters and shared understanding that creates continuing high-performance work teams. Increasing your company’s internal goodwill helps to create its image as a formidable opponent in the corporate world.

Working professionally with your subordinates is the ideal way to ensure a smoothly operating organization. What are the best ways in which a manager can be more of a friend, but still not be taken for granted or exploited by the employees? Being a supportive boss for all of your employees is a terrific start. Attention and time given to each person in your team can develop the right mix of personal and professional qualities in your approach for moving your company forward on the road to success.

Here are a few pointers to remember when working with friendly employees who you feel you want to know better:

•Know your employees

Try and understand the nature and needs of your employees and why they joined your company. Help them to identify and define their immediate objectives and ultimate goals as their mentor, and then decide on the best way to ensure your path as a professional boss-friend. Never try to make it appear that you are deliberately helping; just be a generous, good-hearted boss who genuinely cares about all of your employees. Praise their work while encouraging and motivating them to polish skills that accelerate their individual growth and help them to distinguish themselves from the rest of the crowd. Remembering all birthdays and other small gestures also helps to enhance the personal bond with your subordinates without overdoing it.

•Be sensitive to your employees’ understanding of the relationship

Managers are responsible for quality outcomes of their teams, yet the very definition of ‘business profit’ does not pave an easy road for being friends with each employee. Even with this shared understanding, employees and managers cannot view their working relationships in the same way. Oftentimes, employees who respect their manager will be very glad to share a friendship and may not be as aware of profit-affecting boundaries. As managers, we need to be sensitive to our employees’ feelings, so there is no reason to blatantly proclaim non-association as friends. Simply steering clear of topics relating to your personal life is a good way of maintaining some distance.

•Be a team player

Jump right into your team and juggle work with the best of your members. Real performance-based bonuses, promotions, or even words of appreciation can work wonders for fair and professional relationships. Such full involvement in your team’s work toward company goals can make each employee feel needed, increase managerial dedication to shared group goals, and promote respect for all members within these mutually respectful relationships.

•Define responsibilities

Pre-established boundaries help avoid getting blamed for favoritism or biased attitudes toward “special” employees. Always set clear objectives for every person in your team. Establishing well-defined responsibilities at the onset reduces possibilities of conflicts. Act as an organizer who directs efforts into productive alignment with your company’s goals, thereby increasing overall workplace efficiency.

•Eliminate personal opinions and judgments

When it comes to work, weigh each of your employees’ needs equally and leave no room for discrimination. A good leader has keen observation skills to respond objectively with a rational mind. A fair attitude with an unprejudiced outlook automatically calls for a professional relationship between bosses and subordinates.

Business wisdom dictates that managers are wise to be prepared for any possible outcomes of developing workplace friendships. Discussing the avoidance of employee friendship is not unkind when hurt feelings can happen both ways. In fact, the manager has just as much to lose as the employee, and the business owner may have the most to lose in the workplace-friendship equation.

“It’s only one night out” can haunt a manager for a long time when employees are likely to not see you as the same authority. If employees feel like they are “in” with you, there could be many more problems later on in business. Being a true friend to your employees is something that should be avoided if you want to ensure successful work outcomes. Make life easier on yourself by keeping well-established boundaries, and do not cross those friendship lines at work. Be friendly, but do not be a friend.


(Article written by Jeanie Lyubelsky) 



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