Let’s Be Friends: How to Manage Friendships with Employees

With all the time we spend at our jobs, it makes sense that we form friendships with the people we work with. This is not usually a big deal when workplace friends are peers, but it can be a challenge when we form friendships with the people we supervise. There is value in being friendly with employees, but it is important for managers to understand the boundaries of workplace friendships with the people they supervise.

Terminations & Friendships Don’t Mix Well

A healthy friendship should be balanced. The supervisor/employee relationship by its very nature is not balanced because one person has authority over another. The supervisor has the power to hire, discipline and terminate the employee. When friendship is thrown into the mix, it can be hard for the supervisor to take such action. A supervisor who is close friends with an employee may be seen as playing favorites. In addition, an employee who is friends with a supervisor may falsely assume they cannot get in trouble.

This can make being a supervisor a rather lonely job. When employees decide to get together for drinks after work, they may not always invite the boss along. Rather than seeking friendships with employees, look to your workplace peers: other managers. Working in HR, I have run into a similar problem because HR is often in a position that involves hiring, disciplining and terminating. For this reason, I tended to form work friendships with HR coworkers or managers who I did not have authority over.

Friendship in the Facebook Age

Social media has changed friendship. Friends on Facebook can include people you went to preschool with, coworkers, those you play online games with and more. It is common for coworkers to connect through Facebook and other sites. But, is it acceptable for a supervisor to friend an employee on Facebook? It depends.

Supervisors need to decide whether they are comfortable having that level of knowledge about their employees’ personal lives. I tend to advise supervisors to avoid social media friendships with their employees. Social media may give you access to details about an employee being in a protected class. If learning about this information coincides with needing to take disciplinary action for a work performance issue, an employee who is also a Facebook friend could allege that they are only being targeted based on protected information you recently learned on social media. Avoiding social media friendships and remaining in the dark can sometimes be a good thing.

If you do decide to connect with employees on a site like Facebook, you should not be the one to initiate the friend request. If you start sending employees friend requests, they may assume they have to accept your request because you are the boss even if they would rather not connect. Instead, let the employee be the one to send the request, and proceed accordingly.

Setting Comfortable Boundaries

I am not advocating for a management style that is cold and detached. You can still show care and compassion toward your employees without developing deep friendships. The key is that you need to set boundaries that are comfortable for you.Ask yourself, “Will I still be able to able to be a good supervisor if I engage with my employees socially?” Grabbing coffee with an employee during a break may be OK for you, but getting drinks after work may be too much. Figure out what works for you.

About the Author

Stephanie Hammerwold, PHR, is the owner of Hammerwold & Pershing Consulting and specializes in small business HR support. Stephanie is a regular contributor at Blogging4Jobs and The HR Gazette, and she gives presentations on a variety of job search and workplace topics. She specializes in training, employee relations, women’s issues and writing employment policy. Connect with Stephanie on LinkedInTwitter or Facebook.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not of The HR Gazette or its team members.
stephanie@hammerwoldpershing.com'

Author: Stephanie Hammerwold

Stephanie Hammerwold, PHR, is the co-owner of Hammerworld & Pershing and specializes in small business HR support. Stephanie writes as the HR Hammer and is a regular contributor at Blogging4Jobs, The HR Gazette and TalentCulture, and she gives presentations on a variety of job search and workplace topics. She specializes in training, employee relations, women’s issues and writing employment policy. Connect with Stephanie on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook.

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