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. Here is why, as a manager, you can be friendly, but you do not want to make friends with your direct reports at work.
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 can be friendly at work, but don’t do things after hours. 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 a friendly manager, but do not make friends at work—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.
I once had a friend/co-worker at work. She wanted to become a supervisor, so she discussed this with our manager. He made her a supervisor of me and another employee. I don’t know whether she got a pay increase, but this new situation did not sit well with me. Our manager did not discuss this change with me or the other employee to get our input before he carried this out. I later got laid off and never saw these people again.