Can Managers Be Friends With Employees?

Whether you’re new to management or a seasoned hand, the issue of whether or not to be friends with your employees is a common one. Can you be friends? Can you hang after work? What is the norm around relationships that are both manager-subordinate and friendships? 

First, let’s clarify what “friends” means. There’s a difference between friendly and friend. It’s important to be friendly with your employees at work. You shouldn’t be unpleasant or standoffish, for example. It’s often a good idea to be approachable. 

But the issue of real friendship is somewhat different from a friendly demeanor. Being friends with someone implies a relationship of equals. The fact is, as a manager, you aren’t on an equal footing with your employees any longer. In the eyes of the company, they aren’t your friends. They’re your subordinates. 

Second, while we can’t tell you never to be friends with employees, we can caution you against making it a practice. If you genuinely feel friendship, pursue it once you can really be friends, not employer-employee. 

Here are three reasons why you shouldn’t actively pursue friendships with employees. 

It can conflict with business goals.

Remember, your goals as a manager are to further the goals of the company. You owe that to the company who placed you in a position of trust.  

Your goals are not to make your subordinates like you as a friend. In fact, friends as subordinates can conflict with your managerial goals. What if your friend, wonderful personally as she is, simply isn’t good at the job? It happens. You may have to criticize her, demote her, or even terminate her. That’s a recipe for bad relationships at work. 


It can undermine your authority.

If you are friends with your employees, it stands to reason that you all will act like friends. You’ll develop private jokes or certain rituals at work 

Acting in a “friend” way rather than a managerial way can undermine your authority. Your friends can take advantage of the special relationship and not even be aware that they are doing it. They may come in late and leave early, for example, or let deadlines slide. These actions can be a particular problem when someone new arrives. They may assume that any schedules and deadlines you set don’t apply – because that’s what they see. 


It can affect other employees negatively.

The most productive teams work harmoniously together. They don’t have to be friends, necessarily, but they need to have positive relationships and not negative ones. 

But developing friendships with some employees and not with others is all too likely to lead to negative feelings on the part of some employees. They may feel that they play favorites or simply feel excluded and not included. That’s not the best way to get good work out of an employee. 


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