I’m the manager of a small communications team and gosh — I like my employees. Seriously — I do. I think they’re talented, smart individuals who are enjoyable to be around. Heck, I’d go as far as to call them fun! We work in close quarters and collaborate frequently. I genuinely like being around them and hope they feel the same. But they’re not my friends. I’m not theirs either.
And I don’t want to be.
Sound harsh? It may seem that way, but here’s the thing — being friends with your employees makes it a lot more challenging to actually manage them. It’s tougher to enforce the rules and make the often difficult decisions that accompany being a boss. It can be hard to tell an employee they didn’t get that raise they were hoping for or that they messed up. You have to be able and willing to provide honest feedback that sets your employee up for success, without concern of personal ties compromising that ability. Not to mention, being true friends with an employee also opens the door to potential favoritism, regardless of how fair of a person you may consider yourself.
Now, that’s not to say it isn’t important to make sure your employee feels like more than an email address or a job function. (“Hey, that’s Polly, our spreadsheet maker!) It is absolutely crucial and should not be overlooked. Besides the fact that it’s important just from a human being standpoint, employees in the United States are actually more engaged when they feel that someone in their workplace cares about them, like their supervisor. Taking an interest in your employees and how they’re doing — especially in terms of balancing work and life — shows your humanity. In turn, this makes your employees more likely to feel confident and appreciated by their company and encourages them to share their ideas with you. Engagement also makes an employee more likely to advocate for their employer.
The more connected people feel to their colleagues, the better they perform in the workplace. A great boss should be fostering positive work relationships and an environment that facilitates brainstorming and overall productivity. They should also give employees an ability to bond, share experiences and contribute to the company’s overall mission and goals. But they don’t need to be hanging out with their employees outside of work-related functions or teambuilding events. They also do not need to follow them on social media. That’s a friend activity and a boss, no matter how cool or well-liked, does not need to know the nitty-gritty details of their employees’ personal lives.
As a boss, you have to be your employees’ leader, first and foremost. Once that level of respect has been removed, the ability to provide clear and firm leadership unravels. This goes for the most flexible and supportive managers as well as the more conservative or intense. You can care about them and want them to succeed and even take a sincere interest in their hobbies or their family life.
But that’s called solid, comprehensive leadership — not friendship.
Joelle is a writer, editor, and registered yoga teacher living in southern California with a passion for celebrating the messiness of life through storytelling. She holds a MA in Journalism from New York University and loves a well-written sentence, brunch, and staying active. To read more of her writing, visit her website www.joellezarcone.com.