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Should Managers Befriend Their Staff?

There is an important difference between being friendly with someone (communicating in an open and empathic way), and being friends with someone. A difference I’m sure you all are very aware of. Different people with unique experiences and valid standpoints often make great arguments about how friendliness is key in today’s workplace, especially if you’re the manager; you want to appear approachable.

Dare I say, having no background in psychology, that I imagine the psychology behind a subordinate and manager relationship is quite complex. If a friendship between someone and their manager forms during work, what is the friendship actually based on? The desire to please, or genuine feelings? The work environment itself distorts things, because people act differently at work than they do outside the office, so people are really versions of themselves, and it is these versions of themselves that others grow to like.

Traditional advice in this area is that a manager should not form a personal relationship with an employee – here that means they shouldn’t make friends with people who work for them. If there’s an existing relationship, that’s different, but that could be equally as complicated.

Firstly, becoming friends with an employee can create perceptions of favouritism, and create divisions and cliques amongst the staff. Even if people don’t realise it, these ideas can take hold subconsciously, with people being careful around the ‘boss’s mate’.

Secondly, as a manager, friendship could blur your judgement about certain matters, or it may be seen that way. Imagine if you had to lay off two members of your six strong team, and one of them is your friend.  Even if you manage to remove your friendship from your decision making process, people will always think it played a part.

Managers’ should maintain professionalism at all times. That doesn’t mean they can’t be friendly or that they just have to talk about work, and the way they communicate doesn’t necessarily have to be commanding, depending on their style, but it does mean that a distance between manager and employee must be clear to both, regardless of how they communicate.

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