In my workshops for new supervisors and business owners, I’m often asked if it’s “okay” to be friends with your employees? My quick answer is NO. However, it depends on how you define friendship. If you define friendship as a mutually beneficial relationship where both parties support each other in achieving their goals, then yes. However, if friendship means you spend time outside of work with some employees and not others, are deeply involved in their personal lives, or treat your “friends” differently from other employees, then friendship is probably not the best idea and here’s why:
1. Favoritism or even the perception of favoritism causes conflict
No matter how good of a job you THINK you’re doing of not showing favoritism to employees who are your friends, the odds are there are going to be instances where you’re going to treat your friends more favorably than employees with whom you don’t have that same relationship. Even if you do manage to pull it off, when other employees know you’re friends with some employees, they’re more likely to perceive favoritism, even if you’re not really showing it. Their perception becomes their reality and it’s going to cause conflict among your employees.
2. Your friend might not take you seriously at work
If you’re the type to “let your hair down” after work in the presence of your friend, or you reveal a lot of deep, personal information about yourself, this can often cause the “employee” to see “The Boss” in a very different light. The result could be a lack of respect at work or an inability for the employee to take you seriously when you make decisions or tell them you need them to do something.
3. It is harder to manage performance with someone who is your friend
If your friend/employee’s work habits start to slip and it comes time for you to provide “Performance Improvement Feedback,” you may hesitate to do so, or wait until a problem has grown, because you don’t want to criticize a friend. Your friend may also be more resentful and defensive when receiving negative feedback from you as well.
4. A “friend” will likely find it easier to be insubordinate than an “employee”
Your friend who argues with you about sports, or challenges your parenting style at home, might find it equally okay to challenge or ignore your requests, rules, or policies at work.
5. If the friendship goes sour, you still have to face the person at work
If for whatever reason, the friendship ends in your personal life, that person you’ve been avoiding socially, or turning down invitations from, is still going to show up at work on Monday. This creates an awkward situation not only for the two of you, but everyone in the office.
6. Making hard decisions becomes harder with a “friend” than an “employee”
If it comes times for layoffs, or your friend’s work performance has degraded to the point where you have to let him or her go, it’s going to be a lot harder to not only make that decision, but have the conversation with a friend than it would be with an employee. It’s especially difficult if your friendship has reached a deep personal level where you know your friend is struggling with his finances, or are having trouble in her marriage.