If you work a full-time job, there’s a good chance you spend more time with your colleagues than your friends and family. These days, it is normal to establish close friendships with the people we work with—so much so that terms like “work wife” have entered our cultural lexicon. And while we may have relaxed over the years in terms of how we feel about workplace relations, if you are the boss, the dynamics are quite different and you must tread carefully.
There’s no doubt that workplace friendships can make our lives more bearable, but they also require more care and discretion than other friendships. So, before you become best friends with your employees here are some things you should know:
Manager employee relations are based on respect, not friendship
Whether you want them to or not, your personal feelings can interfere with your professional relationship—they can create a perception of favouritism, or unconsciously influence decision-making. As a leader, it is your job to lead a team toward a common goal in a way that serves the company’s best interests. You may also act as a coach or mentor and if an employee steps out of line or falls behind you’re expected to deal with the situation professionally.
That is why gaining the respect of your employees is more important than gaining their friendship, because it allows you to do your job more effectively while keeping a professional distance. To establish respect, you should avoid gossip or talking about deeply personal issues—keep your conversations positive and professional.
You need to establish boundaries
As someone’s boss, there is an implicit power dynamic that should be acknowledged—which means if you overstep that line you risk losing your credibility. If you give employees the wrong impression, you can quickly lose their respect which will make your job more difficult.
Setting boundaries is not about being cold and detached. It’s about understanding that the workplace is a professional setting and there may be times when you need to hold back. For example, keep social activities to work hours only. And if you must go for an after-work drink, don’t be the last to leave!
If you’re worried about coming across as too serious, there’s plenty you can do to create a fun work environment to give your employees a positive impression of you as their manager. You can relax certain rules where appropriate, or provide incentives for employees who go that extra mile, while still maintaining the manager-employee relationship.
Navigating grey areas
If you’re in a situation where you were friends with your co-workers and now you’re their boss, things can get murky. You may still want to stay friends and hang out after work, but because of your new role you feel the need to keep some distance. It’s important to be honest with yourself about what your new role involves and understand that there are going to be things you can no longer share.
As a general rule, avoid getting too personal at work because if you are eventually promoted as someone’s manager, it could come back to haunt you.
Approach conflict the right way
As hard as we may try, conflicts do happen and the best thing to do is handle them professionally. Remain calm and avoid becoming overly emotional. Do not spread rumours or try to get your other colleagues on your side. Give yourself some time to compose yourself before approaching your employee, and give them a chance to discuss their side. Identify the source of conflict and resolve it in a professional manner—even if that means through the help of a third party.
At the end of the day, the friends you make at work are colleagues first and friends second. Navigating the murky waters of workplace friendships is nothing if not a challenge, but by following these guidelines you can still keep your work life light and drama-free.
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