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Do you want your boss to be your friend?

A coworker sent me an article from the Wall Street Journal Online titled “OMG – My Boss Wants To Be My ‘Friend’ Online”. http://www.careerjournal.com/columnists/cubicleculture/20070711-cubicle.html

The article points out those social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace can pose a dilemma for both the boss and the employee. It’s a new awkward dimension of ‘friendship’ and the boss-employee relationship.

What do employees really want from their bosses?
Terry Bacon, an expert in talent management and author of ‘What People Want: A Manager’s Guide to Building Relationships that Work’ conducted a nationwide survey of 500 employees to learn what matters most in their relationship with a manager. The Oct. 2006 news release for the book says, ‘Ninety percent of workers rank honesty, fairness and trust as their top three needs. Bacon says what employees don’t want from their boss is fun, friendship and “interesting conversations”’. http://www.lorenet.com/About-Press.asp

How does civility fit in all this?
I think about respect and fairness. I think of brown-nosing (flatter with the intention of getting something). I think of ethics. How separate do you want your personal life and your working life to be? Do my age and my experience with many different bosses make me look at the demarcation line between a boss and an employee differently than my 20-something year old children would?

I think both the employee and the boss have responsibilities to maintain a professional relationship. There are bosses I would never be friends with outside the workplace and there are bosses that are definitely friends. The latter is more problematic. I think there are differences in friendships before your friend becomes your boss, when your friend is your boss and after your friend is no longer your boss. The real test for me is would I continue the friendship after the person is no longer my boss? Your thoughts?

More on the Internet
Boss or Friend? The Importance of a Clearly Defined Working Relationship, http://www.allbusiness.com/human-resources/workforce-management/11242-1.html

Can the Boss Be a Friend?, http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=34&aid=2408

Can Employees Be Friends With the Boss?, http://gmj.gallup.com/content/23893/Can-Employees-Be-Friends-With-the-Boss.aspx

Your Friend, Your Boss, Perhaps Your Loss, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-adv/classifieds/careerpost/careertrack/ct070698.htm

Comments

Lynette, good topic!

The obvious pitfall of workplace friendships is that people move around in jobs and the peer of today could be the boss (or subordinate) of tomorrow -

OR - the boss's favorite today could need corrective counseling next week, and how does one adjust to that on the fly? In my experience, most managers will try to ignore sticky situations until there is a crisis and their moment to "rise above" and serve as a model of effective behavior is clearly well behind them.

What is the answer? I am not sure - people will still feel the need for affiliation with their peers, so forming NO friendships is out. Feeling a sense of identification and understanding between yourself and your boss can make it difficult to resist becoming "pal-ish" -
Probably best to set rules upfront, become friends with peers only - when job changes change reporting structures, discuss that change openly to clear the air about new roles and "cool" the friendship until the reporting relationship changes again (it will). If it is tempting to be friendlier with a boss or subordinate, be above reproach by saying "no" -

and you didn't ask, but I will just tell you that I think social drinking with the boss is a definite no-no unless all reportees are there and it's a special occaision... and then the rule is ONE drink. If it's "Friday Afternoon Club" the boss's regular presence is unseemly. The boss is NEVER "one of the 'guys'" no matter what she/he thinks.

I won't even go anonymous, how's that?


Okay, I'll go out on a limb, since Dana did. I'll even admit I have a different perspective. As Sue says, there really is no truth--only perception. And that's based on your own reality.

My reality is that I've worked for both kinds of bosses--ones that I shared some sort of friendship with, and the others. There were different types of friendships involved--some naturally closer than others because of a variety of common interests or whatever. The thing is, we both cared about each other as people--with families, interests, lives, outside of work.

At my age, I have the luxury of having learned a great deal about myself, and being able to lay down some absolutes. I will never again work for someone who doesn't care about me personally, and/or who I don't like and respect as a person. Life is too short, and the probability of negative consequences, in my reality, are much higher, as are the costs.

The key to this seems to be a primary concept of workplace civility, which is professionalism. All parties should exhibit a degree of professionalism that visibly demonstrates to others that there is "no quarter asked, no quarter given"--a true friendship would not be used for personal or professional gain. If there are inappropriate favors or information being exchanged, then it's not a friendship, it's something else entirely.