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Can You Be Friends With Your Employees?
By Sonya Buck, Australia


When we first join the workforce, there is no book on how to successfully navigate your way, similarly, there are certain things not spelled out for managers or business owners.

When hiring, it’s only natural that one of the factors you may consider is whether you can see yourself getting along with them.

Conventional wisdom says you should avoid forming friendships across reporting lines, but there are no set rules.

You do have to consider being good friends with your direct reports may impact you and your employee if you need to raise performance based issues. Thinking about the worst case scenario, you may one day need to fire a close friend.

If you are struggling with the workplace friendship issue, it may assist to treat these friendships in two different ways – professional and personal. Professional may be defined a sort of comradery at work, where you can laugh, talk about TV or sports and share your thoughts when something goes wrong in the workplace. Personal friendships are the ones where you spend a lot of time outside the workplace together, share your innermost thoughts and may even at times cry on each other’s shoulder.

Sometimes close friendships sour, therefore you must consider if an ex-friend/employee may spill all your personal secrets to colleagues. You particularly have to draw a line beforehand on how much of your ‘not so great’ self you should share, as you need them to respect and look up to you as their leader.

Should you have a good friendship with one of your staff, be careful that you are not being perceived to be showing favouritism. On the flipside, would the friend/staff member expect preferential treatment?

Just to make this issue even more complex, advice on friendship may vary in different types of workplaces. Your Farm Overseer may be your best mate because of all the time you spend working together and your families may catch up on weekends.

Should you be a good friend with a colleague and you are then promoted to be their boss, it’s best to have an honest discussion with them which includes expectations and ground rules.

Having said all of this, I’m fortunate to have been able to have long term friendships with both a boss and my former assistant many years after we have all left the organisation. Maybe I’ve been lucky we all shared the same work ethic and we bags of mutual respect for each other. It could have been that both parties were good at giving and taking constructive criticism and never took things personally.

There is nothing definitive here on what you should and shouldn’t do, but at least it gives you something to think about before diving in to find your new bestie at work.