Should You Be Friends With Your Employee?

Joe Weinlick
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Office friendships make the workday more pleasant and productive, but when you're the boss, close relationships can cause problems. While it's possible to be friends with your employees, it's important to follow a set of best practices to ensure workplace integrity.

Set Boundaries in Advance

As you start to develop a friendship with an employee, it's important to have a discussion about boundaries. Sit down outside of the office and lay down ground rules. You might decide not to talk about personal matters in the office, outline topics that are off-limits or decide to exclude each other from non-work-related social media posts. Let your friend know that you plan to treat him like every other employee, so that he isn't caught off-guard down the road. A frank conversation in the beginning helps establish a separation between your boss and friend roles, laying the groundwork for smoother office friendships.

Avoid Favoritism

One of the biggest dangers of office friendships is favoritism, both actual and perceived. When your workers are friends, there's always the question of whether or not a promotion or new responsibility was deserved, particularly if the employee on the receiving end is not trusted or well-liked. This can create suspicion and jealousy among other employees. A transparent decision-making process can head off problems. Also, be wary of subtle favoritism that damages workplace integrity, such as allowing friends to speak first in meeting, giving greater credence to their opinions or looking to them for assistance over others.

Deliver Criticism Equally

It's difficult to reprimand a loved one — with office friendships, these tough conversations are inevitable. Beating around the bush or sugar-coating your feedback might be easier, but it does a disservice to your friend. Taking emotion and personal connection out of the mix can help you survive these discussions. Instead of apologizing, provide an objective assessment of the situation and recommend steps for improvement. In the process, you do your duty to the company and let the rest of the staff know that no one is exempt from criticism.

Stick to Policy

Before you enter into office friendships, take time to gauge the company's stand on the matter. If you're a small business owner, the decision is yours. If you work for a large corporation, your bosses might have firm opinions on the subject. When in doubt, look to the company handbook and talk to trusted senior colleagues. Going against accepted company norms can cause problems for you and the employee, putting your jobs and professional reputations at risk. In that case, it's always best to stop the friendship or request a transfer to a different department to avoid impropriety.

Office friendships can be tricky to navigate — when a friend reports directly to you, the challenges increase. By maintaining professionalism and knowing when to call it quits, you can maintain friendly relationships without crossing the line.

Photo courtesy of Adam Grabek at


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