We all want to make friends at work. With the number of hours the average employee spends in the office, it’s important to be surrounded by people you actually like; it makes your own day more bearable, as well as fosters a more conducive team environment.
What about when your boss moves into this bracket, though? After all, it’s good to have a strong working relationship, but do you want to be hanging out outside work as well? And if you do, what impact will it have?
Luckily, we’ve got answers to these questions.
Your career could potentially suffer as a result of your newfound fellowship, so pay close attention: these are the pros and cons you need to weigh up when your boss becomes your friend…
Pro: It’ll Be Easier to Advance Your Career
It’s basic human nature that we’re nicer to people that we like than those we don’t; the workplace is often no exception to this rule. If your boss knows you’re angling for a certain project or has given you some confidential information that you can use to your benefit, then – rightly or wrongly – you can use it to get ahead.
Con: Your Colleagues Will Hate You for It
In a best-case scenario, you might receive some gentle rib-tickling from your colleagues (and maybe even a grudging acceptance) about how the boss always goes easy on you. But in a competitive environment, your colleagues are unlikely to be so accepting, breeding accusations of the other F-word: favouritism. When a team feels that an individual is being singled out for preferential treatment, a toxic atmosphere can develop very quickly.
If your boss is wary of this, it can actually have a negative impact on your own growth prospects, too. In order to defer such accusations, they might take a more punitive approach to your promotional aspirations; this means you could end up getting overlooked even when your potential advancement is based on genuine merit.
Pro: You’ll Find a New Golf Partner
Everybody likes to make a friend, even if it’s your manager; even more so if you share common interests. For instance, they might be the only person in your office who plays golf, giving you someone to hit the greens with on a Saturday morning – and why not? Regardless of the hierarchical structure of the workplace, if you click with someone as a person, then there’s nothing wrong with that.
Con: Your Motives Might Not Be Entirely Honest
Getting friendly with your one-up because you genuinely want some pointers on your short game is one thing, but doing it because you want to get a promotion is quite another. If there is a more sinister, Machiavellian motive behind your attempts at cultivating a friendship, then it’s unlikely to end well. If your boss has any shred of awareness, they’ll figure you out straight away and you’ll be earmarked as untrustworthy.
Pro: In Theory, the Feedback Process Will Be Easier
Desperately trying to prove your worth to your boss come appraisal time can be a stressful experience, but when your boss is your friend, you might expect that you’ll be immune from reprimand. You might even have eased up on your last few projects because, let’s face it, your buddy wouldn’t dream of firing you? Right?
Con: In Reality, It Isn’t
They might be your friend but your manager still has a professional responsibility to the organisation to get the best out of everyone and make sure the team is performing. If you’re not, they can’t afford to sugar-coat things and give the impression that it’s okay just because you’re pals – and it’s hugely unfair to expect them to.
The problem is: not everyone can differentiate a personal relationship from a business one, and criticism always stings. If you don’t feel that you can head out for a beer with the same person who has just rubbished your entire annual project-handling performance, then that’s understandable, but rather than focusing on the potential fallout of your friendship, maybe you should look at trying to improve your performance first.
Pro: You’ll Be Privy to the Inside Workings of the Company
Aside from making you feel special, knowing what’s going on upstairs can also inform your career decisions and give you a direct advantage over your colleagues. On the other side of the coin, you will know all kinds of things about your colleagues that may or may not interest your boss.
Con: This Puts You in an Awkward Position
Aside from being sneaky, passing tidbits of intelligence onto your boss can come back to bite you. None of your colleagues will feel comfortable trusting you or sharing things with you, making you an outcast and creating an unsavoury reputation among your peers.
Conversely, if you let slip that senior management is planning to merge your department, your boss won’t be impressed that you betrayed their confidence, either. When you’re stuck in the middle, it can be difficult to identify who your loyalties belong to; should a conflict arise, this puts you in a hugely difficult position.
Pro: You See the Personal Side of Your Boss
When you go for drinks or to a football game, barriers come down and you learn more about the human side of your boss; indeed, in some instances, you might become so close that your family lives cross over, too. It’s rare for employees to get such a personal insight into their manager’s life.
Con: Those Boundaries Become Blurred
As long as that person is your boss, there are certain aspects of your friendship that will be off limits. For example, after a few beers, you might be tempted to start complaining about certain duties at work that you don’t enjoy or certain people that you don’t like. The problem is: things like this put your manager in a compromising position. Always remember that they are your boss first and your buddy second, and that you still need to retain certain facets of professionalism at all times.
Pro: You Can Use Your Relationship to Include Everyone Else
If your manager invites you for a drink straight after work, you can extend the invitation to your colleagues, allowing you all to bond and forge a stronger team spirit. Best of all, this demonstrates to your coworkers that there is nothing unfair or illegitimate about your friendship, negating any snide remarks or negative judgement from them.
Con: They Might Prefer Not To
Of course, if you’re flaunting your friendship in the office, it’s highly likely that your invitation will be widely declined; nobody wants to be the third wheel, after all. While you shouldn’t have to hide your friendship, the last thing you want to do is rub it in everyone’s face with constant back-slapping and inside jokes; everybody else will despise you and your existing relationships with your colleagues will evaporate.
So, the question remains: should you befriend your boss?
In all reality, it’s not a question of if you should but rather if you have the capacity to understand what the boundaries will be and how it might impact on your own career if you do. For example, if you can spend Saturday afternoon at the game together, talking about football instead of work, but then turn up on Monday and talk about work instead of football, then this is a healthy example of how such a friendship can work.
Ultimately, though, it’s a difficult balancing act fraught with the potential for disaster. Unless both of you are consummate professionals that understand the pitfalls listed above and how to avoid them, then it’s likely that things won’t work out; just make sure it’s not either of your careers that pay the price.
Do you think it’s possible to be friends with your boss? Let us know in the comments…