A lot is expected from a good leader these days.
There are numerous best-selling books such as ‘First, Break All the Rules’ and ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People,’ aiming to transform one into an exemplary boss. In addition to that, many newspaper articles focus on the subject, and a wide choice of management and leadership courses are on offer. Evidently, polishing one’s employer qualities seems to be in demand.
Emphasis seems to fall on building friendly relationships with your workers.
‘Leadership can actually be distilled down to one very tangible measurement; the quality of your relationships’, Mike Myatt writes in Forbes Magazine.
Another article suggests that some of the most important good leader qualities are being caring, encouraging, and appreciative of your employees. This, suggestively, ‘unifies teams, builds collaborative cultures, fosters meaningful commitment and bonds people to an organization’.
However, what if the line between care and appreciation and an actual friendship is thin and easy to cross? Is having your boss as your close friend a good idea?
The Guardian readers were recently asked whether people would befriend their bosses on Facebook. The response was an overwhelming ‘no’, with 87% of readers saying bosses should not be your Facebook buddies.
So, should employees befriend their bosses in real life? Can there ever be a true friendship between the two, or not?
We asked Labs participants what they thought. Would they consider their bosses their real friends?
Here’s what we found…
Only a small number of participants considered their boss a 'true friend'. They outlined that being friends with your boss created a positive working atmosphere.
However, most Labs participants did not consider their bosses their 'true friends'. A variety of reasons were given, which are outlined below.
Click on the headings to read participants' comments.
Participants who considered their bosses 'true friends'
Some of those who believed their boss was a 'true friend' said that it is important to have a trusting and supportive relationship with your employer.
“A down to earth individual who has previously worked in your role before progressing - they know the difficulties you face in meeting your daily work tasks, etc. A good working relationship between employee and boss is one of team work, where each person can rely and depend on each other for support whether work related or personal situations which can impact on work” D. Griffiths, Cardiff, UK
“She supports me and I can trust her. She has helped me out during a rough time in my life and is also my child's godmother” Anon
Participants who did not consider their bosses 'true friends'
Most participants said they have friendly relationships with their bosses, yet would not consider them good friends.
“Because I recognise the differences between a friendship, a social relationship and a business relationship” Malcolm P, Somerset
“I like my boss and get on with her but I wouldn't confide in her or spend time a lot of time socially with her outside of work. There is definitely a barrier and some caution around what you say in front of your boss, even if you do get on very well” Anon
“I have a friendly relationship with my boss, however I don't think it is possible to be a close friend with your boss” Mark D, Wakefield
“We are friends but never true friends. Your boss has to be neutral because at any time they may need to let you go, especially with the current economic climate. There has to be a line - true friends share secrets, but in a workplace that cannot happen, there has to be a hierarchy” Jasmine L, Harrow
“He was my BOSS. The role of employer is not conducive to friendship. It is a relationship of unequal authority - one above the other - and respect, liking; trust may exist, but not 'true' friendship (whatever that is)” Anon
Many participants would not consider their bosses true friends because of the age gap between them.
“Large age gap (she is much older)” Anon
“He is a lot older than me and we generally don't have that much in common” Anon
“She is quite a bit older than me; we also do not work in the same part of the building” Anon
“There is a very large age gap and we have a very professional relationship. I wouldn't feel comfortable having a conversation about personal thoughts and feelings with her” Amber, Sussex
Some thought being friends with your boss may make things more complicated at work.
“Boss is management, management enforce the rules, the rules are not always efficient or good for business, so sometimes it's difficult to improve things at work if the boss is a mate” Amanda, London
“I believe in maintaining a detached relationship with my manager as there may be a need to have difficult conversations about work - it is a business relationship” Anon
“You can never ever be true friends with your employer and I my opinion should never want to be. I have witnessed work colleagues been taken advantage of by their boss by being given extra work; being involved in their petty squabbles, or having a row with them about a personal matter and not remotely anything to do with work. I think there should be a wide dividing line between workers and management” Anon
Many participants emphasised the importance of maintaining professional relationship at work.
“I like to maintain a professional relationship” Anon
“We have a strictly professional relationship and do not mix personal with business” Anon
“Professional relationship, age difference, hierarchy in the business” Anon
“We are all paid to do a job; friendship doesn't come in to the equation. We should be professional” Anon
Participants who thought that being friends with your boss is a good idea
Some participants believed that being friends with your boss is a good idea, as you spend more time in the office than at home, and working in a friendly environment would be beneficial for both. It may result in better achievement, too, participants suggested.
“I think it is a good idea as you spend more time with your work colleagues than you do with your own family when you think of working hours. It is good to have a 'human' relationship with your boss; someone who understands your work struggles and stresses, and can relate [to it]. You support them in work by completing the tasks they set; they equally provide support by assisting and guiding you on how to achieve these. It is only natural to build a good friendship with someone who fully understands your daily obstacles and equally works with you to overcome them. It is only natural to build a good relationship on that basis and from that comes good friendship” D. Griffiths, Cardiff, UK
“If your boss is friendly, you're not so nervous and you can concentrate on working harder” Anon
“Good idea to the extent that it facilitates effective and productive relationships in the workplace - e.g. mutual trust and respect, harmony within the team. You still need to respect the fact that it is a working relationship, with a difference in status/responsibility and recognise when it is appropriate or not appropriate to behave as you would with a close friend outside work. If others within the team are less close it can lead to issues/suspicions of favouritism or ganging up, which is obviously less productive” Anon
“It creates a happier and a more relaxed work environment. Also if you have any problems or issues you may find it easier to talk to them” Anon
People who thought being friends with your boss was neither a good nor a bad idea
“A friendly atmosphere is desirable however if they are too close, the boss might be unable to discipline the employee should they do something wrong” Anon
“Your careers have crossed at a particular company, at a particular time. Being friendly and reasonably open is good and productive; whether "true friendship" comes from this is debatable” Anon
“It is always important that relationships are friendly between bosses and employees. However, in a society where the main focus of business is to make a profit rather than to enhance society or affect social need, the choices imposed on bosses generally, make close friendships untenable” Malcolm P, Somerset
Participants who thought that being friends with your boss was a bad idea
Most thought being friends with your boss was a bad idea. They gave a variety of reasons, such as awkwardness and conflict at work due to personal matters which, most Labs participants agreed, should not affect working relationship.
“It can cause awkwardness when it comes to asking for more responsibility or a pay rise. It is also unfair on other employees who aren't friends with the boss as favouritism could occur” Amber, Sussex
“There may be personal or work issues that can cause conflict and restrict on-going mutual working relationship” Steph, Bristol
“Friendship implies intimacy and trust - and possibly a Facebook connection - which can lead to trouble at work” Amanda, London
“There will always be a power bias in the relationship with the boss having greater power. It would always be difficult to talk to your boss about issues at work. Colleagues who know about your close friendship may treat you differently because of it or feel you are treated differently by the boss” Anon
“If there are disagreements in either work or outside of work, it could impact greatly on the professional or personal relationship. It can also lead to favouritism in the workplace” Anon
Some participants said bosses may not be able to discipline their employees who are their friends and may also not be able to remain objective.
“Your boss has to be able to discipline his employees, and see them as employees and not close friends” Mark D, Wakefield
“How can they be truly objective [when] there is a clash between loyalty to you and the company” Acss, Reading
“It makes performance management difficult” Anon
“Being close friends means tolerating each others' mistakes and personality defects for the sake of friendship. This is not appropriate in a working situation. If an employee is a 'close friend', how would you fire him if he stopped working well? How would you enforce orders, or give correction? No, friendship is incompatible with working as boss/employee” Anon
Many participants thought being friends with your boss could create tension between you and other colleagues, and favouritism could occur.
“It could cause problems with other work colleagues” Anon
“[It could result to] being seen as receiving preferential treatment by other employees; inhibiting business negotiations about salary or conditions” Anon