Is befriending your boss good or bad for your career? - Women's Agenda

Is befriending your boss good or bad for your career?

It’s a fact of life that at some point each of us will encounter a work colleague who we don’t click with. But, it seems, for a growing number of people the problem isn’t co-workers whom they don’t click with, but those who they do. A recent study undertaken by Accounting WEB.co.uk of 60 managers and personnel working in small to medium businesses revealed that 77% of respondents spent time with their colleagues outside of work.

Out of these respondents 37% acknowledged that they socialised with colleagues on a regular basis, and 15% indicated that managers were amongst their friends. What are the potential outcomes of being friends with your boss?

For freelance writer Hannah Blackiston a friendship with a former supervisor certainly didn’t turn out to be a good thing. It was a decision that she quickly came to regret. “We definitely became firm friends pretty quickly,” she says of her former boss. “She was very open and friendly, and we used to go shopping together in our lunch break.”

It wasn’t long however before Hannah started to realize that her manager was taking advantage of their friendship. “She started to leave all her work on my desk, telling me sob stories about being too busy to do it,” she explains. “I was too scared to say no as I didn’t want to lose her as a friend, so I would just get on and do the work and let her take the credit for it.”

“I think because she was my “friend” she knew which buttons to push and, because I was so new to the workforce, she used that to manipulate me,” she says.

With the benefit of hindsight and experience though, Hannah admits that the friendship with her manager was detrimental from the start, “I didn’t realise it at the time, but the rest of the company saw me in an unprofessional light,” she explains. “They felt I got special privileges because I was friendly with my manager, and they also complained about me to the head of department.”

When it comes to friendships in the workplace Hannah advises others to be cautious. “Do be really careful and make sure you don’t leap into a friendship. I now realise that my manager was just using me,” she says. “In the outside world I might have realised that sooner but it’s easy to blur lines in an office environment, and that’s definitely something to be aware of.”

It was a similar situation for Kim Thorpe who became close friends with a manager, only to later realize that she was “known for befriending people to her advantage and then using and dropping them”.

Kim believes that this friendship not only hindered her career wise – she was passed over for promotion in favour of a newcomer – but also in her relationships with other managers within the organization.

“I had a very sour relationship with one of my line managers which created huge issues,” Kim says. “Near the end of the time in my position I actually asked her what was wrong and found out that she had been fed untruths about me from my manager ‘friend’, as, I too, had been fed untruths about her.”

As a result, Thorpe is now wary of developing a similar friendship again, and warns others in the same situation to always be aware and maintain some distance.

But a friendship with a boss or manager isn’t always detrimental.

“I felt a kinship with my manager from day one, and it’s unlikely that I would have remained in my job otherwise,” says freelance writer and business development manager Rashida Tayabali.

“Befriending her gave me insights into the inner workings of our team, and team dynamics, and I definitely performed better in my job because I knew there was someone who I could trust. She’s been the best manager I could ever have had, and now she’s a very good friend and sounding board.”

Chief financial officer Kylie Neary agrees with Rashida that building a relationship with your manager can benefit you. She says having achieved a couple of internal promotions she is proof that your efforts don’t go unnoticed if you work closely with your manager.

Unlike Rashida though, Kylie says whilst there are big advantages to getting along with the people you work with, particularly your manager, it’s very important to keep the relationship on a professional level.

“To socialise is fine, but don’t become part of the weekend BBQ set, as that’s when the lines between work and play can get too blurred,” Neary says.

What do the experts say?

“I think that managers and staff can be friends and I think it should be encouraged – to a point – as we tend to spend just as much time at work as we do at home,” operations manager at recruitment agency Talentpath Kim Coghill says.

The director at Talentpath Hayley Crealy agrees. “Happier employees work harder and smarter,” she says. “It would make sense that, if you are surrounded by people you like on a friendship level, you will be happier in your work environment.”

Both experts concur that a friendship with a manager can help an employee in their career, as they are more likely to talk openly about their aspirations, and hope for clear guidance with achieving their goals.

In fact, Crealy recommends that you friendships at work should be embraced. “Enjoy it! You are lucky to be working with and learning from someone you like and trust personally.”

However, both Coghill and Crealy are aware of the potential pitfalls that employee and manager friendships can fall into: if a friendship turns sour, a career can potentially be hindered.

“When an employee has a blurred line between what is owed from a friendship, and what is owed professionally, it can be difficult for them to separate the two, and that’s when problems can arise,” Crealy says.

Advice to keep in mind with work friendships

  • Ensure that you have established boundaries on what is work related, and what is to be discussed outside of work
  • Be mindful that if your manager needs to address performance based issues that are work related, they are not to be considered as a personal attack
  • Maturity is the key to a successful relationship
  • Understanding that your manager has a role to do themselves and, whilst they are engaged by that company, they must fulfll the obligations of their role and sometimes they need to have tough conversations
  • Never get confused about what a commercial decision is, as it is normally never personal
  • Remember that it is a blessing to have a manager that you would actually want to be friends with. Respect that, nurture that and be grateful. Do an excellent job and make your manager/friend shine, and they in turn will ensure that you enjoy your role.

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