We spend more time at work than we do with our friends — and often more time with them than we do with our families. As such, making friends at work seems like the natural thing to do. You get to know how your employees like their coffee, their favorite movies, and their family drama. It makes sense that you would call them your friends.

With your peers there’s no reason not to — it’s awesome. But with your direct reports, it’s a terrible idea.

The Pesky Issue of Power Dynamics

Friends are great, and research shows you should work hard to gain friends. But, the problem is that the manager/employee relationship isn’t an equal one. When you have hire/fire authority over someone, you’ve got to worry about a balance of power.

Many companies prohibit romantic relationships between managers and their direct reports, and that makes sense. But you need to be cautious about platonic relationships, as well.

When a manager is good friends with a direct report, there’s too much insight into each other’s lives. There can be too much of a temptation to ignore poor performance or bad behavior when the employee involved is your bestie.

What will your other employees think when they know you are best friends with Jane? Will they assume that Jane can get away with anything because of your personal bond? And even if your best friend is an outstanding performer, the problem doesn’t go away. When she gets a promotion — one she earned — your other employees will question your decision.

Where Do You Draw the Line?

Friendships often just develop organically. You work with someone. You talk with that person and you find out you like the same things, and suddenly you’re friends! How do you stop that from happening?

Well, you don’t. That type of behavior is fine. It’s called being friendly. But you stop it at that. You don’t do things after work. You don’t follow any of your direct reports on any form of social media.

Some managers say they want to follow all their direct reports on social media in case they do something that could lead to termination. Trust me: Anyone who is dumb enough to put termination-worthy escapades up on Facebook will either (a) screw up at work as well,  (b) have a friend who will gleefully send you a screenshot. And often both. You don’t need to monitor accounts.

You should always be nice. But you must always keep a line separating you from your direct reports. It’s the only way you can fairly manage everyone. And being fair is a critical trait in a manager.

So remember: Be friendly, but not a friend.

About Suzanne Lucas

Suzanne LucasSuzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers. She now writes about Human Resources and Business for a number of different publications.

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