Should you be friends with your employees? I’m the type of guy who likes to be friends with everyone. As I grew my company, we got to a point where I realized being friends with employees was hurting our business and my life.
Here are the issues:
- You’ll naturally become closer friends with some people, and others will think you play favorites. When you promote people you’re friends with how will the rest of the company view that promotion and how will that impact your team’s culture and the person who was promoted? Even if the promotion is well deserved, other employees are unlikely to view it that way. You’ll be perceived as a manager who plays favorites. And, realistically, it’s probably hard not to at least subconsciously favor your friends.
- Your friends treat you differently than your employees. You don’t want your employees to necessarily treat you or company rules as casually as a friend would.
- Your employees might find it easier not to be friends with you. Let’s say you have an employee who works hard and doesn’t have enough time for their family or friends. Do they want you as a friend? Probably not. But, will they want to be among the employees who aren’t friends with the boss?
- It’s not scalable and people will feel left out. It was easy for me to be friends with everyone when we had 25 employees. Much more difficult when we had over 150. Plus, what about the great employees who just aren’t the types of people you’d have as your friends? They’ll feel like everyone else is favored.
- Friends are equals. You’ll make decisions that determine who gets specific assignments, compensation and other things that are critically important to your employees’ future. That doesn’t make you equals, and it creates a lot of complications for a friendship.
- If it comes down to it, do you layoff your friend or someone who is more qualified but not your friend? How do you tell a friend they’re doing a bad job? And, what do these situations do to your friendship and your ability to make smart business decisions?
- Friends talk about work with each other. The last thing you want to do is be involved in office gossip. If you’re friends with an employee and that employee complains about work, what do you do with that information? If you do nothing, you’re basically agreeing with what they say (even if it’s badmouthing another employee). But, they probably don’t want someone who will push back or force them to address the problem.
You do lose something:
- Some of my closest friends are former employees. I missed out on that for years, but I think that was the right decision.
- This is hard. It’s natural to build friendships when you work closely with people for so long. I did in a few cases. I’m glad I did, but in hindsight, I can see that it wasn’t the best approach for the business.
It’s about what your employees want:
- They want a leader who is fair, gives them opportunities, helps them with their career and appreciates their hard work. They want to know their success and opportunities are based on merit and not relationships they may not have with you outside of work.
- They want someone who is interested and cares about their life outside of work. Someone who wants them to succeed. But, I don’t think they want another best friend, and if they do, I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be that friend.
By the way, this doesn’t mean you don’t have great relationships with your employees. I just think you can do that best without being friends.
What do you think?