Can you be friends with your boss? Do’s and don’ts

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According to recent research, more and more professionals say they want a work environment that fosters workplace friendships. And that’s not surprising, since even though an increasing number of us enjoy flexible work arrangements and telecommuting options, the American Time Use Survey shows we still spend an average of 8.9 hours a day on work and related activities. In contrast, we only spend around 2.5 hours on leisure and sports.

Considering that we spend significantly more time with our colleagues than our friends, it’s only logical that some of the most solid friendships are formed at work. Of course, a friendship with a co-worker can be on equal footing, because neither of you holds authority over the other in the workplace. But when it’s your supervisor who’s your friend or even your BFF, the lines between professional and personal can easily get blurred. The following do’s and don’ts will help you stay friends without compromising your career.

  • Do draw a clear line between personal and professional. Whether you were friends before you started working for your boss or your friendship developed in the workplace, it’s critical both for your friendship and your career that you keep the two relationships separate. This is usually much easier said than done—but failing to do so can adversely impact your life. For example, if you and your friend are having a difference of opinion in your personal life, that can’t affect how you work together. And at work, you still have to defer to your supervisor’s decisions, even if you don’t agree. You always have to bear in mind that your supervisor’s first responsibility is to act in the company’s best interest. At work, your friendship comes second.
  • Don’t expect or demand preferential treatment. When you’re at work, you’re an employee. And that means you have to earn any rewards, just like your colleagues. If you want to be promoted, do what every other employee has to do. It’s important to note that sometimes, a friend/supervisor can be tougher on a friend in a—likely—subconscious effort to avoid being accused favoritism. If you feel you’re being unfairly disadvantaged, you’ll have to broach this subject carefully. If necessary, ask someone from HR to be present.
  • Do be aware of how your co-workers perceive your friendship. Regularly take a moment and objectively evaluate how your relationship appears to your colleagues. If your relationship at work could possibly be interpreted as unprofessional—for example, if you’re gossiping or spending more time than necessary together—then it’s time to take action to correct that. Keep in mind that even if your supervisor isn’t treating you any differently from the rest, if your colleagues think she is, it could work against you.
  • Don’t become the spokesperson of your team. As Santiago Iniguez points out in his LinkedIn article “When it comes to making friends with your boss (or your subordinates), take Aristotle’s advice,” just like you don’t expect special treatment, your colleagues can’t expect to benefit from your friendship, either.
  • Do establish a “crisis strategy.” Especially if you and your boss are very close, it can be a good idea to establish a “crisis strategy” for difficult situations. For example, if you didn’t get a promotion you expected, it’s only natural to be upset and resentful for a while. But you can’t really vent your frustrations to a friend who’s your boss. Before anything like this happens, sit down together to determine how to handle these types of situations. Do you need a time-out while you recover? Is it better to air your grievances while another friend acts as a mediator? Or is this something you need to discuss at work with someone from HR present? Write down your strategy and make sure you both have a copy to refer to if the need arises.

In today’s workplace, it’s absolutely possible to be friends with your boss. Just keep these do’s and don’ts in mind, and be prepared to put a little more effort into both your professional and personal relationship than you might normally do.


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