Nothing Personal, Just Business: Can Your Boss Be Your Friend?


By Melainne Chiew

“Friends” – it seems harmless enough. Usually, it’s two (or more) individuals searching for that quaint connection, or some company to while away another lonely, loveless Friday night.

But what if that “friend” is your boss?

While statistics show a considerable amount of reservation that an office worker would have toward a boss-subordinate relationship, numerous studies show that even being friends is considered a taboo. According to MSN-Zogby, only 14% of the people polled consider their boss a personal friend.

So where is the line eventually drawn between a manager and his or her employees?

Contrary to popular belief, managers are in fact capable of human emotions; like their subordinates, they are equally capable of laughing, crying, and falling in love. Sometimes a manager can’t help liking one employee over the other, and sometimes workplace romances do blossom amidst initial uncertainties.

However, many managers do adhere to strict moral codes on office ethics. For the good of the company in the long run, such friendliness is just not possible.

Michelle Lim, COO of JobsCentral, thinks that sometimes, one just has to resign to the fact that the higher one climbs, the less friends one will have.

From experience, she finds it difficult to maintain friendships between a manager and his or her staff. “A manager has to make tough decisions, maintain discipline in his team, and keep confidential information, making it difficult to tread between responsibilities and loyalties to friends,” says Michelle.

“While it is possible to engage in social activities with my staff, being too friendly causes me to lose objectivity which in the long run, which does no favours to both parties.”
Michelle believes that if she has to choose, it is better to be a good and fair manager than one that is friends with her team members.

For Cecilia Beltran, Director of Marketing (Asia Pacific) at Anixter, the question is not about where the line is drawn, but rather, how one defines friendship, and how one manages their personal and rational decision at work.

Cecilia opines that if one is friends with a subordinate who is not performing, developing, or growing in his role within the team, the best decision is to show him or her the door. “Indeed, it is a harsh decision, but a rational one,” she says. “Truly in the real world, your friend might not take it lightly, and may even feel betrayed.”

At work, Cecilia believes that friendship is a great test for a Manager’s ability to be objective-oriented.

“There is a great difference in being authoritative/dictating and delegating/guiding,” says Cecilia.

“A strong, feared leader may ask his team to jump in the pool, and everyone jumps. They don’t have to know why. A good, respected leader who understands who to entrust tasks with may not necessarily dictate a jump. The team will know when and when not to jump and why."

5 reasons why your boss shouldn’t be your friend
1: Susceptibility to favouritism: Besides the teacher, nobody likes a teacher’s pet. Even though the “pet” may be incredibly well-versed in his or her area of expertise, tongues will always wag and achievements always doubted.

2: A boss is like your principal; a disciplinarian and a medium for justice.

3: Your personal morale can be severely impacted if your boss, who is also your friend, reprimands you and bitterness might ensue even though there are plausible grounds for the scolding.

4: “Never mix work with personal affairs” – so the saying goes.

5: As your superior, a manager demands a certain degree of respect. Interacting as friends tends to destroy certain boundaries between a manager and his subordinates in an otherwise typical work relationship, which can snowball into potential work crisis and awkward moments.

At the end of the day, a real “friendship” should never be confused with how close a manager might feel towards his staff. One might tread along the lines of “friendliness” and even share some qualities of a real friendship. However, the role of a manager transcends the very essence of two beings searching for that connection; creating boundaries and impending circumstances that real friends will never experience.

So can a boss and his subordinate really be friends? Or will every attempt to establish that connection invariably end in bitterness, conflict and embarrassment? If you find that you are bold enough, then feel free to take the first step.

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