Drawing the line: Should you be friends with your staff?

Here, Lee Biggins takes on the subject of how close you should be with your employees.

While life as an entrepreneur comes with a few universally-accepted truths, such as the sacrifices you’ll make, and the fact that the job goes way beyond the 9-5, there’s one that causes debates time and time again.

It certainly can be lonely at the top, but the question remains: should you befriend your employees? It’s often a tough subject to tackle, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.

But there is a balance to be found, and different aspects to consider; getting the boundaries right will be the best solution for everyone involved.

Starting up your own business can often mean that you’re working closely with your employees, for long hours and potentially in a small office space.

So it makes sense that you might all end up getting to know each other pretty well; while perhaps not a problem in the early stages, it has the potential to cause a real headache further down the line.

Ultimately, the key is to be friendly with your staff, without necessarily being their friend. Although we spend a huge portion of our lives in the office, and some studies suggest that employees with a best friend in the workplace are seven times more likely to be engaged with their work, this doesn’t necessarily mean that as the boss, you should be the best friend.

But in the initial stages of your business, when everyone has to pull together as a team and keep morale and productivity high, it’s perhaps easier to be more flexible with the boundaries; ideally, everyone needs to get along well and have a good relationship.

However, knowing where to draw the line is crucial, especially as the business grows, and here’s why.

While it’s okay to take an interest in Dave from Marketing’s new baby, it’s important that you display the same level of interest for all of your employees; that’s how favouritism rumours start.

Though you might see it as simply being polite, if you’re not as polite to everyone else, then your staff are likely to take notice.

Still not convinced that you shouldn’t be friends with your staff? Here’s what else you need to consider.

It’s not a relationship between equals

As much as you might like to think that you’ve got a genuine friendship going with one of your employees, it’s important to remember that they might not see it that way.

There’s a chance that you’ll always be seen as the boss, no matter how kind and friendly you are, and while you may see it as a friendly invite to watch the football after work, your employee might feel pressured into doing so; a combination that’s eventually bound to end in disaster.

Furthermore, if you’ve struck up a friendship with one of your staff, it’s quite possible that this will result in them getting away with things in the office that no one else would.

If Brian is frequently late for meetings and can’t seem to meet a deadline, but everyone knows that you and he are friends, they’re unlikely to call Brian out on his behaviour; many employees would simply assume that you would side with Brian, ultimately enabling Brian to continue underperforming.

It could land you in trouble

I can’t say it enough; befriending your employees will always lead to whispers of favouritism. No matter how objective you might think you’re being, the reality is that you’re probably not!

When it comes to the time for appraisals, pay rises, and assignment delegation, the truth is that (even if it’s subconscious) you’re likely to favour those that you know best and get on well with.

If two employees are doing the same job, and you give the one that you’re friends with the promotion, you could end up in serious trouble, even if you have reasons behind your decision.

The last thing you want is an angry employee going to HR and accusing you of cronyism; even if it isn’t the case it could be damaging to your business, your reputation and even cause staff to look for work elsewhere.

Could you fire them?

And here’s the big one; if you do become friends with your employees, would you be able to give them an honest review of their performance, and if needs be, terminate their employment?

If the answer to the above question is ‘no’, then that’s a real problem; as a business owner, your company should come first, and you shouldn’t be afraid of letting an employee go for fear of damaging your personal relationship.

Alternatively, when the time does come for layoffs, and you let go of the people who aren’t your friends, your other employees are likely to talk, and this could cause an equally big problem.

That being said, there are some major benefits to having friendships at work. Our recent survey of over 1,000 UK professionals revealed that 90.5 per cent of workers believe that it is important to have friends at work; a workforce that gets along well and spends time in each other’s lives outside of the office may actually be more productive.

Furthermore, employees who get on well with their boss are more likely to stay loyal to them and the company.

So, don’t call off the Friday evening happy hour drinks just yet; getting your team together for a few drinks could actually be exactly what your office needs.

But it’s important to realise that there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed; if a couple of after work drinks turns into a night out on the town, it’s best to take a step back and ensure that you’re not involved.

By expressing a genuine interest in your employees and by socialising with them to a point, you should be able to build up healthy relationships.

And then when it comes to putting the bottom line first, there won’t be any issues, but you can rest assured that you’re running a company of happy employees that you know you can get along well with.

Lee Biggins is the founder of CV-Library.  

Further reading on employing friends

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