Can You Be Friends with Your Boss?

by Marcianne Kuethen
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Since you spend more time with your coworkers than your family, can you be friends with your boss? After all, chances are you have a lot in common simply because you see a lot of each other. And people who spend a lot of time together often naturally develop friendships, regardless of rank or title. But aren’t there potential pitfalls with employee-boss relationships, both inside and outside of work?

It’s never a good idea to be friends with your boss, shares Huffington Post’s contributor Evan Thompson, founder/owner of Thompson & Associates. Thompson’s own painful experiences include being fired by one boss/friend, and having to quit another job due to coworkers’ resentment about his friendship with another boss.

Thompson shares a whole list of reasons for why you shouldn’t be friends with your boss. For instance, if you do get a raise at your next performance review, can you be sure it was performance-related? Will coworkers be jealous of any perceived favoritism? And if you don’t get that raise, will you be hurt and feel short-changed? What if your boss uses you as a means to an end, or you are asked to do something you disagree with? Or what if you, like Thompson, get fired? Plus, do you really want your “friend” monitoring and reviewing your performance?

Being friends outside of work, such as on Facebook, can also create risks, warns Dr. Wendy R. Carroll in The Costco Connection. Information that’s free for all to see on Facebook could lead to claims of discrimination, favoritism, or harassment. Also, employees have been known to get fired after negative posts are written about them. “Physical social networks and our assumptions about how they work may not translate and transfer to online social networks, possibly resulting in lost trust between an employee and their boss.”

All these difficult scenarios are possible, it’s true. As a therapist, career coach, and contributor to Forbes.com, Kathy Caprino is more than qualified to answer the question, Can you be friends with your boss? She maintains that you can be friends with your boss–but you must always be very aware of the imbalance of power created by the boss-employee relationship. This imbalance has the potential to create big trouble. Navigating such tricky waters requires establishing firm boundaries so that being friends doesn’t drag down your work performance or affect your working (and unequal) relationship.

Good things can happen when friendships emerge organically, says Caprino. The entire company culture benefits when two people show each other greater respect, compassion, commitment, authenticity, and appreciation. And outside of work, says Brainworks’ Jessical Lamb in The Costco Connection, using social media helps you and your boss learn what you have in common, share personal successes, and build more positive community engagement. Friending your boss on Facebook “can help to humanize relationships, as you will have more insight into everyone’s lives.”

Lamb also recommends following your boss on LinkedIn to gain insight into his or her interests. You might even find conversation starters for office interactions! However you choose to connect, she warns, be sure to clean up old personal information and remove anything that is irrelevant now. Be careful about what you post from here on to maintain an image that’s in alignment with your company culture.

Not to be an ostrich with her head in the sand, Caprino cautions that there can be a down side to workplace friendships. She echoes all the pitfalls Thompson shared, including favoritism, breach of confidentiality, and loss of productivity when things go sideways. And she definitely draws the line at romantic relationships. “When there’s a significant power differential in a relationship, and when one party can directly influence and impact the other’s ability to succeed in their role, then equality (and even true consensuality) in the relationship is not possible. And if and when the relationship falters, there can be a huge price to pay.”

Can you be friends with your boss? Yes, it’s possible, but only if you have great boundaries, such as no gossiping about other employees and no expectations of preferential treatment. For a real friendship to work, says Caprino, you both must be emotionally mature, transparent, and honest. Are you able to manage your feelings and emotions when things get tough? Can you say “no” when something doesn’t feel good or right? Are you strong enough to address any power dynamics that may be at play? If all of these qualities describe you, then perhaps you’re ready to let a friendship with your boss organically emerge!

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