Outside of the Workplace, Can Employees and Managers Have Friendships? 

Typically, the questions that many individuals ask on this topic revolve around avoiding making significant errors while negotiating particular difficult challenges and how to do so. The majority of the time, these are complicated issues that do not have a straightforward, black-and-white solution.

This is because they touch on the more fundamental facets of the human experience, such as power relationships, coping with (subconscious or conscious) bias, managing a tricky team member, maintaining emotional wellness in the face of crisis and challenge, developing strong boundaries, displaying integrity, and other topics. The following is a complete breakdown of how friendships can work effectively outside the work environment (and why they commonly do not). 

To Begin, Should Employees and Supervisors Maintain Cordial Relationships?

We believe the answer to this question is going to depend on how we characterize the state of “being friends.” It is wonderful to have a cordial relationship with one’s superiors and subordinates, one that is relaxed, open, and friendly, and which is founded on understanding and respect, care, and concern for one another. 

If, however, we are talking about taking it even further – engaging in social activities outside of work, having your manager meet your family, spending lengthy periods together and communicating private details about your life, etc. – it is very complicated waters, and you need to know how and where to (and be able of) handle this situation effectively.   Getting this right requires establishing clear boundaries between personal and professional spaces so that your “friendship” does not affect how you carry out your work together or how you relate to one another as colleagues when the power dynamic is imbalanced.  

 We Do Believe That It Can Go Well and That It Might Be Beneficial to Both Parties Lives and Professions

However, this can also backfire badly, and there are a few genuine downfalls that you need to watch out for when establishing friendly relations with your employer or another employee. A romantic relationship is significantly more complicated and should be avoided at all costs if possible. Why? Because if there is a substantial power differential in a relationship and if one party can significantly affect the other party’s capacity to succeed, progress, or prosper in their position, then the equal opportunity in the relationship is not probable. If the relationship does end up failing, there may be a hefty price to pay for having had it. 

Suppose an employee gets along well with their supervisor and is thinking about making an effort to develop a friendship with them; what would be the most effective way to go about doing this? 

The phrase “Will you be my friend?” is not how the majority of friendships, if not all of them, get their start. They develop naturally as a result of the two people being interested in learning more about each other and wanting to spend more time together. It’s possible that they have a work-related meeting and afterward, one of them asks the other, “Would you like to go have lunch?” The conversation then veers away from strictly professional matters to focus on more personal matters while we are eating lunch. After that, a sense of mutual connection, comprehension, and interest begin to emerge between the two parties. 

Or, when people are attending social functions outside of work (such as drinks, a social event, or an off-site), where individuals are urged to be more “themselves” than the place of work tries to encourage, friendships can start to develop as people start to unveil an aspect of themselves that they might not discuss as openly during their workday. For example: When this occurs, and a personal connection is made, the relationship frequently develops in a way that naturally leads it to become something that goes beyond the bounds of a “work” relationship. 

Does the Same Rule Apply to a Manager Who Gets Along With an Employee and Wants to Establish a Friendship With the Worker Outside of the Workplace?

When we speak about a manager, we’re referring to the person in the corporate structure who holds the most power, so they need to exercise extreme caution and discretion in everything they do. There is always an element of power dynamics at play when a superior strikes up a friendship with an employee or subordinate in their employ. Denying something is the same as pretending it does not exist. Consider the scenario in which an employee is feeling pressured to act as though they want to be friends even though they don’t want to be friends. 

It is our opinion that if you are in a position of power, such as being the boss, it is best to maintain clear and well-defined boundaries regarding this issue and to avoid actively pursuing a friendship with an employee unless that friendship develops more naturally. 

What Are the Positives and Negatives of Having a Friendly Relationship Between a Manager and an Employee?

The following are three primary benefits:

  • Because of the personal connection you share, you have a deeper understanding of one another and can foster greater interest, kindness, and respect for one another. 
  • Due to the reciprocated respect and appreciation that you have for one another, it’s possible that you and your partner are more engaged in and dedicated to supporting one another. 
  • Work may become more “entertaining,” laid back, and pleasant when you can be more authentic to who you are with this person than you normally would be with others. This may be the case if you can be more of who you are. 

The pivotal downsides are:

When a personal relationship deteriorates, it invariably spills over into one’s professional life, which can have very negative repercussions for both parties involved. In addition, it is very challenging to work with or for someone who has wronged you or with whom one has serious disagreements, especially if one feels resentment toward that person. 

When there are issues in a relationship, there are times when there are private things that the other person knows regarding you that are possibly no longer “safe” in their hands. 

Even if you continue to have a strong relationship with someone, your connection with them may cloud your judgment about how well they perform certain tasks. As a manager, this is an especially difficult situation to be in because it may lead to the individual in question receiving preferential or favorable treatment in comparison to other employees, some of whose work performance may not even merit it. 

A close friendship between a supervisor and one of their subordinates can also throw off the equilibrium of the entire team. Members of an organization or department who do not have this type of close friendship with one another may experience feelings of jealousy and exclusion, as well as the possibility that they are being overlooked or that they are not being appreciated. 

Lastly, there are occasions when emotionally disturbed people take the “separation” of the friendship extremely hard, and they will decide to go to great lengths to punish the “accused” in their mind. They do this because they believe that the “offender” deserves to be punished. This is especially true in situations where the person who is “left” in the relationship (as opposed to the person who is “leaving”) tends to be self-absorbed.