FAQ: Should a Boss Be Friends With Their Employees?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published April 8, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

As you converse with the people you work with, friendships may form naturally with individuals in different roles. Managing a supervisor-employee friendship can be beneficial but may present certain challenges. Understanding how to handle these kinds of friendships can help you overcome potential issues they may present in the workplace. In this article, we answer some frequently asked questions about whether a boss should be friends with their employees and review some of the pros and cons of this kind of friendship.

Related: 10 Types of Workplace Relationships and How To Improve Them

Should a boss be friends with their employees?

Bosses, supervisors and managers can be friends with their employees as long as the relationship doesn't interfere with professional matters. Their friendship can exist outside of work, but it can't affect either individual's productivity or reputation. It also shouldn't impact the individuals' power dynamic, as the supervisor still has more power and authority in the workplace.

What are the pros of supervisors being friends with their employees?

Here are some pros of supervisors being friends with their employees:

You can better understand one another's needs

When a supervisor and employee are friends, they can better understand what the other person needs. For example, supervisors who are friends with their employees can offer more direct support because they can anticipate when their employees may need assistance. This can lead to greater productivity in the workplace, in contrast with a workplace where the supervisor has no personal relationships with their employees.

You can develop more mutual respect and compassion

When a supervisor and employee are friends, they may develop great amounts of mutual respect and compassion. An employee can use this friendship to better understand a supervisor's work-related decisions. A supervisor can use this friendship to evaluate their employees' working conditions and ensure they're fair and reasonable.

Work may become more enjoyable

Even if you enjoy your job, you may encounter dull or slow moments throughout your workdays. Working with people you're friends with can make your work much more enjoyable. You're likely to look forward to coming to work every day and enjoy solving problems with your team.

Related: How To Find a Job You Like

What are the cons of supervisors being friends with their employees?

Here are some possible drawbacks of supervisors being friends with their employees:

Other employees may become resentful

Other employees may become resentful if they notice their manager is friends with another employee. A supervisor can manage this risk by being friendly with all of their employees, regardless of their interactions or lack of interactions outside of work. An employee can also help manage this risk by expecting the same treatment that their supervisor gives to other employees.

Problems in your personal relationship may translate to the work environment

It's not uncommon for disagreements to arise in friendships. If an employee and supervisor have a conflict in their personal lives, it may translate to the work environment and hinder productivity. Both individuals can manage this potential drawback by agreeing to keep their personal and professional lives separate.

The supervisor may unintentionally show favoritism

It's possible for supervisors who are friends with their employees to unintentionally show favoritism. A manager may give an employee a more lenient performance evaluation because of their personal relationship. This can make it challenging for the employee to improve their performance and meet their professional goals. A supervisor may also overlook mistakes that an employee makes and be less willing to correct them because of the casual relationship they have outside of work. Both parties can prevent this from occurring by pledging to perform high-quality work and assessing its quality objectively.

Should there be rules for managers and employees who are friends?

It can be beneficial to establish rules for friendships between managers and employees. While a workplace may not have official rules on this subject, a supervisor and employee can set their own rules to ensure they consider the company's best interests. For example, one rule could be that they refrain from oversharing details about their personal lives that may impact their professional statuses.

What are tips for being friends as supervisors and employees?

Here are some helpful tips you can implement if you're a part of a supervisor-employee friendship:

Allow the friendship to form naturally

It's best to allow this kind of friendship to form instinctively. This can allow the friendship to progress genuinely without the expectation of favors or special treatment. If you're an employee, you may first attempt to be friendly with your supervisor by discussing work-related topics. You can later progress to talking about common interests and hobbies. As you get to know each other better, you may spend time together outside of work and share stories about your personal lives. It's important to follow this kind of progression so that you can maintain boundaries and preserve your workplace's integrity.

Related: 14 Ways To Make Friends at Work (And How To Do So Professionally)

Keep your friendship relatively private

It's best to not advertise a supervisor-employee friendship to the world. While you don't have to keep it a secret, you can do your best to keep it relatively private. For example, while you may accept an online friend request from your manager or employee, you may choose to refrain from posting multiple pictures of you two together outside of work.

Be inclusive

It's important to be inclusive if you're part of a supervisor-employee friendship. As an employee, you can converse and interact with all your coworkers and other supervisors equally. As a manager, you can organize team-building activities and treat all of your employees equally.

Related: Diversity Leadership: How Inclusive Teams Achieve Success

Communicate openly

One of the most effective ways you can manage a supervisor-employee friendship is to maintain open communication. Establish rules that you're both comfortable with, and encourage one another to bring up concerns if they arise. You can also benefit from communicating as roles change and one of you earns a promotion that comes with new authoritative responsibilities.

Related: Q&A: Why Is Communication Important?

Talk about work positively

Work is likely a significant part of your life if you spend a lot of time at your office. It's only natural to want to talk about it or refer to it when you're outside of work. If you're discussing your job with your supervisor or employee outside of the work environment, be sure to only talk about the positive aspects. If you have a genuine concern you'd like to discuss, be sure to do so professionally within the office environment.

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