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Should You Be Friends With Your Employees?

should_you_be_friendsThe title of the article is somewhat of a loaded question because it implies that there is a controlled choice in the matter. If an employee and manager are friends prior to hiring, that situation has to be reviewed in advance of the hiring decision to avoid a potential conflict of interest within the department. If a manager and employee develop a friendship during the course of employment, that is a situation which falls under the “should” category.

The Pre-Friendship Side

Human resources and other interviewers should discover any existing relationship of potential hires with others in the company. If the context was there were two people who were hostile to one another instead of friends, would that change the approach and decision making process? The answer will tell you a lot about how to handle the issue of mutual friends.

In either case, the interaction between the two parties is likely to affect other members of the department and have some effect on productivity. But the larger issue is whether such a situation should be allowed to germinate to begin with. While no legal issue is involved, whether someone should be denied employment on the basis of a single pre-existing relationship sounds more like a moral judgment than good business.

For example, if the prospective hire has a unique, high-demand skill set, and is one of the top people in the field, are the best interests of the company served by excluding them from consideration? Perhaps a weightier matter is if the potential hire’s skills and experience outweigh the value of the current employee. It is clear that this is a value judgment in more than one way.

The Post-Hire Side

It may happen because of any number of circumstances, but a friendship developed between a manager and an employee can cause havoc in the department. It is not about favoritism or being treated equally. It is about the perception of those things. Other employees in the department can become resentful, even if it is not justified. That will create a difficult working environment for everyone.

Another problem with management-employee friendships is knowing where to draw the line. This is a matter of degree. There are employees who share common interests and experiences with managers, and this personal exchange is healthy and productive for everyone. It lets other employees know the boss is human and approachable on a professional and personal level.

A higher degree of friendship begins to skew the perception from professional to overly personal. The friendship may exist and observe the appropriate boundaries, but the possibility of one taking advantage of the other’s friendship can cause problems between the two people, leading to a different type of conflict.

A Simple Answer 

The simple answer to the question is “no.” The purpose of a management-employee relationship is to provide guidance and work for the benefit of the company. This is obviously not intended to suggest a mechanical approach to a job, but one must recognize that interpersonal relationships are a by-product of the purpose of employment—not the reason for it.

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