Etiquette Questions, Answered: Social Situations
Can a Supervisor Be Friends With His or Her Employees?
Q. What is the appropriate level of friendship for a boss and her employees? I have gone out to dinner and to the movies with
my staff. Lately I’ve wondered if we’ve gotten too chummy.
Raleigh, North Carolina
A. Being a supervisor means having to adhere to certain boundaries. That can be frustrating. But far worse is a boss who doesn’t recognize those boundaries (think of Michael Scott, the comically inappropriate head honcho on The Office). Because even if you enjoy spending time with your staff and vice versa, there’s no getting around the fact that you are in a position of power and they are not.
That’s not to say that real friendships can’t develop between employer and employee, but it’s nearly impossible to remove the hierarchy from the relationship. For example, there’s no way for you (or me, as I answer this question) to know if your employees are inviting you out because they feel obligated or because they truly want you around. And because you’ve started wondering whether you’re “too chummy” with them, it makes me think that you may have blurred the lines to a degree that is no longer comfortable for either party.
Unless you’re invited to a work-related function (that is, drinks to celebrate someone’s birthday or a promotion), perhaps you should take a break from being one of the gang. If your staffers want to know why you have suddenly begged off so many outings, be honest with them about feeling the need to draw clearer lines between work and play. If they persist in asking you out, you’ll have the comfort of knowing they miss having you around.
After some time has passed (a month or two), feel free to take in the occasional flick with your staffers. But the key word is occasional. You’ll find that protecting your reputation as an impartial boss and maintaining your professional relationships with employees is well worth having a less crowded social calendar.