113. Can Bosses Be Friends with Employees

Episode 113: Can Bosses Be Friends with Employees (Summary)

Here’s a question that comes up a lot – especially among newer managers. Can bosses be friends with employees? Answer: Sure they can! Believe it or not, it happens all the time. Perhaps the better question to ask though…is should they? For my money, asking this question is a little like asking if you can and should eat an entire 24-pack of string cheese at once. Can you? Sure, I guess. But if you do, some very uncomfortable things are probably going to happen not long after. Friendships between bosses and employees are the topic of the day – so don’t touch that…mobile device.

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*Full transcript under the comments below.

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Transcript – Episode 113: Can Bosses Be Friends with Employees

Hey there, BossHeroes. I’m taking a little break from the show this summer, but fear not because we’ve got a whole schedule of content you’ve not heard before. While I recharge my batteries, we’ve decided to share the episodes of a short but popular YouTube series I did a few years ago on how bosses cultivate commitment in the workplace. So, every other Sunday through the end of the summer, you’ll hear these quick funny lessons on how to inspire teams, get results, and be a boss that people don’t hate. You’ll even get to hear the old rock theme music we used and some recording bloopers at the end. Enjoy, and thanks for all that you do to care for so many.

What’s up, friends? Here’s a question that comes up a lot, especially among newer managers. Can bosses be friends with employees? Answer, sure they can. Believe it or not, it happens all the time. Perhaps the better question to ask though is, should they? For my money asking this question is a little like asking if you can or should eat a 24-pack of string cheese all at once, can you? Sure. I guess. But if you do, some very uncomfortable things are probably going to happen not long after. Friendships between bosses and employees are the topic of the day. So don’t touch that mobile device.

If you wanna make sure you never miss a piece of content from me on how to boss better and cultivate commitment, make sure you visit joe malt.com and subscribe.

Now, let’s dive in. It should come as no surprise that friendships blossom between supervisors and staff members. They spend a lot of time together, tackle struggles and stress together, and they share unique experiences together like that. One time my old boss and I found ourselves stuck in an interview with a candidate who was certifiably insane. It was definitely a bonding experience. While it’s true that Healthy Boss employee relationships contain many of the same dynamics as healthy friendships, mutual respect and trust and support, and honesty, a leader’s number one job is to provide just the right balance of challenge and support to trigger commitment. This means that there are times when a supervisor must be the primary vehicle for accountability. That’s hard to do objectively, when you spent yesterday texting Harry Potter memes together, or last Saturday on a Netflix and Chill binge, truly becoming friends with your direct reports leaves you vulnerable to all sorts of problems down the line. For instance, friendship portends favoritism, despite your best efforts to treat everyone the same. True friendship doesn’t stay hidden, and others on your team will believe you favor your friend even if you don’t cue the resentment, jealousy, gossip, and pettiness that comes with that. Also, friends confide in each other, but sharing your struggles, fears, or complaints with a direct report is a recipe for drama. Once you’ve shared how much you loathe that department head your struggle, staying motivated at work or what you really think of your neighbor’s kids, that horse doesn’t go back into the barn. That stuff gets remembered and it influences perception. It may even get shared.

And of course, there’s the power dynamic. Bosses have authority and influence over a person’s very livelihood. There is never true equity or safety in a friendship when this power dynamic is present. Anytime you extend an invitation or a confidence, you could be exploiting that dynamic, putting that employee in an awful position. And anytime one of your employees cozies up to you, how do you know it’s not out of professional ambition? Now, I know what you’re thinking. Yeah, Joe, but I would never do those things. I know how to set boundaries to which I reply, yes, you will, and no you don’t. Now, for the record, I mean that in the nicest possible way. Look, I have no doubt that boss, employee friendships start out with the best of intentions and with a commitment to set and observe healthy boundaries. But guess what? True friendship creates comfort.

And when you start feeling comfortable, you take more risks and eventually those boundaries fall away. So, I say again, yes you will, and no you don’t. All of this leads me to a simple but important piece of advice for anyone supervising people in the workplace. Aspire not to be friends with your employees, but to instead be friendly. The very best bosses do many things that friends do while maintaining healthy boundaries. They care about the person, they care about, their family, their wellbeing, and their career. They seek to earn trust and be trusted in return. They invest time into building an authentic relationship, and all interactions and the emotions behind them are genuine. This is what it means to be a caring boss, to be an invested boss, to be a friendly boss, but don’t cross into something more problematic. Don’t confide something in one direct report that you wouldn’t share with everyone.

Don’t extend an invitation to one employee that you wouldn’t give to all others on your team. And while you should create a safe environment for employees to vent, share, be vulnerable, and be themselves, you shouldn’t expect that from them in return. It’s not their job to help you feel supported and safe, despite the fact that it’s your job to do that for them. That’s what your friends are for.

So, there you have it. Oh, and here’s one final tip. If you want more sophisticated relationships with people at work, make friends with other leaders at your level on that org chart, or at the very least, with people well outside of your department. And of course, you could always try to find more friends the old-fashioned way on the internet.

As always, I’d be 19 kinds of grateful. If you do two things for me right now, leave a comment on this video wherever you are viewing it, and please, please hit that share button and share it with your network. If you do both of these things, then I’ll definitely be your friend and I don’t care who you work for. Thanks for watching. See you next time.

Joe (Outtakes):
Can Bosses be friends with employees? No. Thanks for watching. No, I’m just kidding. But that we should put that at the end. That’s funny.

Joe (Keynote Ad):
Are you planning a meeting or event? Why not have me join you as your keynote speaker?

Joe (Clip from Live Keynote):
Employalty is employer loyalty and humanity. It’s a commitment to creating a more humane employee experience because that’s what triggers commitment at work. I’ll give the leaders in your company a clear vocabulary and framework to turn your organization into a destination workplace. What you see in front of you is the employee scorecard. Every single person in every single job, in every single company on Earth is walking around with a kind of internal psychological scorecard. And if you can engineer these experiences for the people in your organization and they can check most, if not all of the boxes on this scorecard, you create an extraordinary competitive advantage for your organization and team. And we’re definitely gonna talk about why so many people are changing jobs. Okay, I’m gonna run over to this side of the room now. This is almost as long as the walk from the Hotel <laugh>.

Joe (Clip from Live Keynote):
Why are people switching? What is something we haven’t heard yet? Organization. Don’t say someone’s name. That’s not nice. <laugh>, I heard organization. What else? Value feeling, valued management that we had dozens of answers for. Why are people switching? But I would argue there’s only one. I would argue that every answer you just gave rolls up to a bigger idea. And that bigger idea is this. People are switching to improve their quality of life. When we create a workplace that stops treating people like a commodity and starts treating them as a fully-formed human being, you don’t just crack the code of commitment. You make a massive difference across society.

Joe (Keynote Ad):
When I arrive on site as your speaker, I have two jobs. Help the people in the audience with the real-world challenges they face every day and do it in a way that is utterly captivating. If you’d like more information, a quote, or to check date availability, just email hello@joemull.com. That’s hello@joemull.com.

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