Do we like our bosses? According to a recent survey from Spherion Staffing Services, the vast majority of us do: 74 percent of surveyed employees said their relationship with their boss was “excellent or good.”
But that doesn’t mean our bosses are our friends. Spherion found that a slight majority (51 percent) of employees say that their bosses are not their friends, and that only 46 percent of workers ever spend time with their bosses outside the office. Forty-one percent of employees said they consider their relationships with their bosses — no matter how good those relationships are — to be “exclusively professional.”
For me, Spherion’s survey raises an interesting question: Should employees be friends with their bosses?
I’ve always felt that the answer is “Yes.” Why would I want to work for someone I didn’t consider good enough to be my friend? (Shoutout to my current manager, who often Skypes me to talk about bourbon. Shoutout to our CEO, who gave me a signed copy of The Basketball Diaries when I moved out of state.)
According to Spherion Division President Sandy Mazur, though, I’m thinking about this all wrong. There’s a lot more to boss-employee relationships than whether or not you think your manager is cool.
The Benefits — and Drawbacks — of Being Friends With Your Boss
If you look at Spherion’s survey results, it seems that being close with your boss can bring some serious benefits. Fifty-six percent of the employees surveyed said people with more personal relationships with their bosses get more one-on-one time with their managers, and 52 percent of employees said workers who are friendly with their bosses get more schedule flexibility.
But here’s the thing: those benefits only seem good to you. They don’t necessarily look all that great to your colleagues, who may believe (rightly or wrongly) that you’re receiving unfair special treatment from your boss as a result of your friendship. As Michele Lando has written for this website, your coworkers’ perceptions of you can seriously impact your career. If your coworkers think you’re the beneficiary of some sketchy favoritism, they may make your life a living hell in the office.
“[Employees] don’t want to be seen as someone who is gaining favor,” Mazur says. “They want everyone to be equally rewarded and recognized. [Maybe that's why] 66 percent of employees don’t want to have closer relationships with their bosses than they already have.”
Furthermore, four out of five employees in Spherion’s survey said their relationships with their bosses had positive impacts on their careers — but, as Mazur points out, those four-in-five employees may not be friends their bosses. In fact, it may be the one in five who say their relationships with their bosses have negatively impacted their careers that are friendly with their bosses.
Consider this: If you are very close friends with your boss, you may be reluctant to leave your company — even if leaving would mean taking a great new opportunity to boost your career.
You (and Your Boss) Have to Do What’s Right for You
Close, personal relationships between bosses and employees are double-edged swords, which means employees should think long and hard about the kinds of relationships they cultivate with their higher-ups.
“You certainly don’t want to be seen as someone who is getting special perks or favors because of that relationship,” Mazur says. “As with any friendship in a work environment, you have to be very careful and cautious about how you build those relationships.”
Ultimately, Mazur believes that how friendly bosses and employees get is a personal choice. There’s no clearly correct answer here.
“It’s a very personal choice – there’s no right or wrong way to do this,” Mazur says. “It’s kind of up to the employee and the employer to walk that fine line.”
Speaking of the employer: Bosses play a role in determining how personal or professional their relationships are with employees, too.
“[As a boss,] your employees are important to you. Their lives are important to you, and their families are important to you. That’s what makes solid teams,” Mazur explains. “But it’s up to you [and what you and your employees are comfortable with].”
And there’s one final element to consider in all of this: What counts as “friendship” depends, in large part, on how we each personally draw the lines between “friendly” and “professional.”
“It’s such a personal choice, and people define friendship in different ways as well,” Mazur says. “I consider all of my staff my friends — but I don’t go to plays with them. But we’re there for one another.”