We start learning about interpersonal relationships when we are young. When I was in pre-school there was a girl that had the same overalls as me. This commonality was all we needed to become friends. There was also a boy there who once purposely pushed me over in front of his Mum but, instead of telling him off, she promptly gave him an Easter egg. This incident was all I needed to decide that this boy was not my friend. That’s right Nathan — I may forgive but I never forget!
We continue making friends (and sworn enemies like Nathan) for the rest of our lives. The relationships you have with your best friends are clearly defined, with obvious expectations and boundaries. However, the friendships you cultivate with others may not be so clear cut. The friendship you have with your boss is one such example. This particular relationship has great potential but its certainly not without its grey areas. This begs the question — can you ever really be friends with your boss?
Becoming A Boss Friend
If your goal is to be such close friends with your boss that you pick each other up from the airport and help one other move, this article isn’t for you. I can only advise that you watch The Office and take notes from Dwight Schrute instead. This article is for anyone who would like to stop doing that weird tight-lipped smile when their boss makes eye contact.
Exhibit A: The weird tight-lipped ‘I don’t really know you, but you pay my salary’ smile
The Good Things
You spend so much time at work surrounded by colleagues, so you may as well make friends, right? Being friends with your boss can be beneficial because:
- You can relax and be yourself in the work place. Obviously not so relaxed that you take your pants off and eat ice cream straight from the tub in the middle of the office but relaxed to the extent that you remain professional.
- Being friends with you boss can make rough patches a bit easier. If you have to take time off because of a family emergency or illness, it helps to have someone at work who understands your situation on a personal level.
- If your boss is trying to implement new procedures, or if you have ideas that could benefit your workplace, you can count on each other for support and respect. This should be happening regardless of whether you are friends or not, but the reality is this happens more organically if you and your boss are mates.
- If your workplace has team building days and fun nights out, its good to know that you can confidently hold a casual, non-work related conversation with your boss
The Not-So-Good Things
Unfortunately, being friends with your boss can also have several negative knock-on effects:
- There is always going to be a power dynamic between you, and that can be hard to get past. Can you ever truly be friends with someone who, worst case scenario, has the ability to fire you?
- If your boss gives you feedback on your performance at work, it can be hard to separate the business from the personal. Being told to lift your game or that you need to make some changes may sting a little if they come from the mouth of a friend.
- Your boss might also find it difficult to be completely honest with you about your work performance if you’re close, and you could end up with an inaccurate assessment of your abilities. It’d suck if you were waltzing around work thinking you were the bee’s knees, when in fact your boss just didn’t know how to go about sharing constructive criticism with a friend!
- Other members of your team may end up feeling jealous or excluded. If you get extra opportunities or a promotion, you may find that the office gossip mill starts to turn
One of the worst things that can happen is that your friendship breaks down. An old manager of mine quickly became best friends with a new staff member. In hindsight, they became besties way too quickly. After weeks of partying together, tagging each other in memes and generally being joined at the hip, my colleague rang our manager to say she wouldn’t be coming into work because she was just too hungover to function — full marks for honesty, I’ll give her that. My manager had to tell her new friend that a hangover was not a sufficient excuse for missing work and she would have to come in. The relationship rapidly crumbled from here on out, making the workplace increasingly uncomfortable for everyone else. Several HR meetings later, the new staff member left, and my manger had to begin the recruitment process all over again.
The Four No-No’s of Being Friends with Your Boss
If you and your boss really click on a personal level, and you decide that you’d like to pursue a friendship, then I would strongly advise that you avoid:
- Getting too comfortable on social media
- Forgetting your boss’s authority
- Flaunting your friendship at work
- Office gossip
Some people choose to accept friend requests from/ friend their bosses on social media, and that’s okay, it’s a personal preference. However, it’s worth remembering though that, just like life prior to 2004, it is possible to be friends with someone without also being their Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat friend. If you friend your boss, they’ll be able to see where you are, who you’re with and how you act in your free time – and even if you’re not a drug-taking party animal, it’s nice to keep your leisure time separate from your workplace.
Don’t forget that they’re your boss first and your friend, second. If you openly complain to them about your job and stop taking their instructions seriously, this work friendship is going to have some serious consequences for your career.
Have you ever hung out with people who constantly bring up in-jokes and rehash you-had-to-be-there moments? Yep, this is what you become when you flaunt your friendship with your boss at work. It’s annoying and exclusionary, so unless someone is generally interested, zip it!
They say that great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events and small minds discuss people. A piece of office gossip may seem like harmless yet tasty news to you, but it could spell a disciplinary procedure for someone else if you spill the beans to your boss.
I believe you can be friends with your boss, as long as you understand that your friendship is fundamentally different. Trying to make your boss friendship like all your other friendships is what will bring you undone.