Balancing Between Being a Manager and Having Friendships in the Workplace

Friendships are a natural part of life.  The great leaders, however, draw the lines so everyone in the workplace can see them. The lines are evidenced by the manager’s unbiased and culturally sensitive behaviors.  These leaders have thought about the consequences of their friendship and have probably discussed the challenges of being a “leader” and a “friend” with the friend.

Expectations in the professional workplace tend to be based upon finding a balance between showing you care and are interested in your employees and introducing and demonstrating ‘professional’ boundaries.  But what if you have recently been promoted above people you considered friends? Or you are in a position to hire a friend who you know will make a great employee?

Here are a few rules you should keep in mind if you decide to make friends or stay friends with those that you manage.

  1. Treat every employee the same. Keep your friendship outside of the workplace, so resentment won’t grow among workers. This means not giving your friends extra slack when it comes to job performance. It can get sticky if a friend is under-performing or taking advantage of your friendship by slacking off. You must be firm with these friend-employees, even if it means jeopardizing the friendship.
  2. Be the Leader: It is your job to establish the boss-employee relationship. If your friend drops by your office a little too frequently for chit-chats, or expects extra time off gently remind him or her that your professional relationship has to be different than your friendship. Deal with the issue the same way you would any employee and keep it strictly by the book.
  3. Don’t give them a reason for disrespect. This may mean taming down your social life with your friend if it includes drunken benders or brawls with the guy who beat you at pool. It will be hard for your friend to take you seriously during the Monday morning meeting when they know where your shiner came from.
  4. Don’t talk shop off-duty. When you’re hanging out with employee friends outside of work, limit your conversation to non-work topics. This will prevent you from giving your friends an unfair advantage. Otherwise you may leak information, or find yourself brainstorming ideas that other employees aren’t in on. This leads to favoritism and resentment.
  5. Don’t cut your friendship off entirely. Nothing will build resentment faster between you and your subordinate if you end a friendship as soon as you become their boss. The nature of the friendship needs to shift and boundaries established, but you can’t ignore the fact that you were friends before the work relationship was created.

How have you managed a friendship in the workplace?  Or do you keep professional boundaries in place?

photo credit


About Patricia Knight
Hello and welcome. My name is Patricia Knight. Thank you for taking the time to view my blog. I’m a Human Resources professional who is currently pursing an MBA at the University of Nevada-Reno. I am an analytical, detail-oriented professional who believes that collaboration and negotiation are critical for successful employee relations between leadership and employees.

2 Responses to Balancing Between Being a Manager and Having Friendships in the Workplace

  1. khalifa says:

    Hi, I am from United Arab Emirates, studying business major and teaching math. Your article helped me so much.

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