There’s a popular saying, “People don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses.” While in a lot of situations employees list a bad boss as a reason for seeking other employment opportunities, what happens when you really like your boss? Is it possible to consider your manager your friend?
7 Tips for befriending your boss.
1. Keep it professional.
Even though you may confide in her, you should still keep things professional. This means no talking about how drunk you got at your cousin’s wedding or how hungover you were at an all-staff retreat. Keep the dirty details to yourself. While it's okay to talk about some personal things, try to stick to topics like your favorite restaurant, vacation city or holiday plans with your family.
2. Don’t expect special treatment.
Just because you have a friendship with your boss, don’t expect special favors or to always get the projects you want. This might make other employees resentful of the relationship and could lead to some involvement from HR. If your company or team is on the smaller side and HR isn't involved, things could still get very awkward if you're getting obvious special treatment from your boss.
3. Avoid social media.
Some companies have strict social media policies. Even if yours doesn't, you should probably avoid befriending your boss on social media (at least while you’re reporting to her). There may be some exceptions to this rule, like if you knew each other before working together, but for the most part, you only want to share things with your boss that you’d share with your grandmother. In other words, keep it clean and professional. The vacation photos of you double-fisting margaritas in a bikini are not something you want floating around the office.
4. Set appropriate boundaries.
At the beginning of your friendship, it's important to set boundaries. Are there things you don’t want to share with your boss? Are there things you shouldn’t know about your boss, their boss or other employees? Can you go to lunch but not drink together? Based on how well you know her, some of these boundaries might be a little over the top. For some people, a glass of wine after work with the boss is perfectly fine. The line you don’t cross is up to you and your boss to decide together. Once that line is drawn, you both have to work to not cross it.
5. Don’t gossip in the office.
In addition to setting boundaries, don’t participate in office gossip with your boss. While it may be fun to know all the dirt, it generally never ends well. If you ever feel pressured to share gossip about colleagues with your boss, don’t give in. Let her know you value the relationship, but remind her of the boundaries you’ve set for both of you. Try saying something like, “While I value our relationship, I don’t feel comfortable gossiping about my colleague or spreading rumors.” If your boss continues to push, maybe she isn’t as good a friend as you hoped. By stopping this early and not gossiping you’re saving your relationship and a lot of headaches later.
6. Separate the personal from the professional.
Being the boss can be challenging. You may think you know what's going on, but managers generally have another lense. Your boss may be getting information from her boss or company leadership that she can’t or isn't ready to share with you or the rest of the team. This information could be about new projects, the ability to add staff or any number of good things — it doesn’t just mean layoffs or moves. Your boss may also be looking to grow her career and get a promotion. This means her leadership and the results she delivers may be under scrutiny. Don’t take things personally if you get moved to a new project or don’t get to work on something you were hoping to work on. There may be a bigger picture plan in place and getting upset won’t help your career or your friendship.
7. Don’t take your performance review personally.
This might be one of the hardest parts of having a friendship with your boss — not taking your performance review personally. While your boss might be your friend, you can’t forget she’s still your boss and has to handle your performance review as well as potential compensation increases. Yes, it might be a little weird that your friend knows how much you get paid and has some (if not all) of the say in any raises, bonuses or promotions you may receive. Try to listen to her feedback in your review. Ask questions or for examples of things you don’t understand, and listen to the answers. If you’re seeking a raise or promotion make sure you’re coming with data to support your ask. If you have a bad performance review or your boss lets you know there are some things you need to seriously work on, don’t take it personally. She's coming from a place of wanting to help you learn and grow.
Pros and cons of being friends with your boss
• Extra mentoring.
Having a personal connection with your boss could be great. You may get some extra mentoring. If you admire your boss for her achievements, leadership style or ability to just plain get things done, you might learn a thing or two by spending time with her!
• Someone to celebrate with at work.
Did a big presentation with a client go really well? Did your team crush it this quarter? By being friends with your boss, you always have someone to celebrate your successes with. And better yet, this person has a vested interest in your performance.
• A friend who can give good advice.
Ever tell a college friend or yoga buddy a story about something annoying that happened at work and feel like they don’t really “get it”? When you talk about work challenges with your boss, you might get better advice. While she may be busy with her own work, she’ll at least know all the players and how to best help you navigate the situation.
• Your boss may know too much.
By developing a personal relationship with your boss, you risk letting your boss know too many personal details. This could impact her decisions about your professional future. From knowing you ran up your credit card last week at a bachelorette party to how you hate Stacey in Public Relations, this knowledge, could impact her decisions about projects to assign you to or her overall review of your performance, whether consciously or unconsciously .
• You’re never equals.
No matter how much you enjoy spending time with your boss and vice versa, you are not and will never be equals in the relationship you have. She'll always be in a position of power and can use that power as she sees fit. While this could also fall in the pro column, it's always something to be ultra-aware of.
• Your “friend” writes your performance review and determines your raises/bonuses.
Your boss is in the position of power, and this is one of the ways that it will manifest. While you can hope your boss (and friend) will use this advantage to help you where she can, it may always be uncomfortable. The best way to handle this is to continue to have open and honest conversations about your performance and compensation levels. If you feel this process is being handled unfairly for any reason, the best thing to do is loop in HR or your boss’ boss.