Manager is not your friend!

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Your manager is not your friend

It is ok to have a friendly relationship with coworkers.

Actually, this makes the workday much more enjoyable. However, becoming friends with direct reports is a little trickier.

As the boundaries are getting blurrier in corporate America and the workplaces are shifting to a more casual environment, especially young employees are having difficulty in defining their relationships with their superiors.

Therefore, everybody has to consider the below points before considering their managers as their friends.

  • Friends are equals to each other: Your boss is superior to you. However, your friends are your equals. Even if your boss treats you friendly, this doesn’t mean that s/he is your friend. Remember, you are responsible of reporting him/her and s/he is responsible of evaluating you.
  • Friends do not try to change each other: Friends accept each other as is and don’t try to change each other. If your friend tries to change you, then, this is not a real friendship and probably, your friendship won’t last long. On the other hand, your manager can try to change your behaviors or work habits, if s/he thinks your performance is not enough. It is your superior’s job to give you feedback and push you to change yourself for the better.
  • Friends are there to support you: Your true friends are supportive to you no matter what; your boss doesn’t need to be supportive. You can talk with your friends about the things that bother you or problems in the office or sometimes make gossip. Clearly, it is not a good idea to gossip with your boss, especially about work-related things. S/he also doesn’t need to know about your personal problems, even if s/he has good intentions.
  • Friends do not require a progress report: A true friendship doesn’t have expectations. Nonetheless, in the office, a boss has expectations from his/her employees. S/he checks on your progress to make sure you complete your given tasks. Therefore, this is not a mutual but one-sided relationship because you are expected to fulfill certain things.
  • Friends are not supposed to be role models: Managers should be good leaders and role models. They are supposed to set examples in the workplace so others can follow them. However, friends are not supposed to do this. They can behave pointless and let their guards down when they are spending time with you. Managers never do this.

Ask a Candid Boss: Can Managers Be Friends With Their Employees?

Dear Candid Boss,

Can managers and employees be friends and still function in a typical manager-employee way?

Hi Curious Professional,

The relationship a manager has with an employee is definitely not a friendship, which may be described as a two-way street. As such, being a manager often feels like a lonely, one-way, pay-it-forward street. But, if you’ve ever had a great boss, you know it’s also one of the most deeply personal and meaningful relationships life can offer.

When you’re the boss, you need to care personally about each employee, but you also need to provide appropriate challenges and opportunities for growth.

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Caring personally means it’s your job to listen to people’s stories, to get to know them well enough to understand what motivates them, to encourage them to take a step in the direction of their dreams, to help them do the best work of their lives.

But good leaders also recognize that it’s a part of their jobs to tell people when their work isn’t up to par, that they’re not going to get promoted, that a project they were excited about is getting killed—and even, sometimes, that they’re getting fired.

The way I see it, if nobody on your team’s mad at you, you’re probably not doing your job. As Colin Powell said, leadership sometimes means being willing to piss people off.

That doesn’t mean managers should operate like cold-hearted robots. After all, your relationship with employees determines whether you can fulfill the core responsibilities of this role: to guide the team to achieve results.

If you think a boss can succeed without strong relationships, you’re kidding yourself. I’m not saying that unchecked power, control, or authority never work. They work especially well in a baboon troop or a totalitarian regime. But telling people what to do and how to do it won’t inspire creative thinking. Over time it’ll only serve to frustrate and make them quit, or, worse, stay and do mediocre work, living lives of quiet desperation.

So what exactly does a good boss-employee relationship look like—if not friendship? It begins with excellent communication. Start by soliciting feedback. This means being humble and confident enough to address concerns without getting defensive. A question you can use: “Is there anything I can do or stop doing that would make it easier to work with me?”

Next, focus on the good stuff; praise often—publicly and sincerely. The more specific you can be, the better.

When you see someone screwing up, you must be able to convey the issue in a way that’s perfectly clear, but which still reassures them that you care and have confidence in their abilities.

Don’t save all your constructive criticism for 1:1’s—the best time to give feedback is in-the-moment, private conversations. Feedback takes emotional energy, and if you don’t genuinely care about the people who work for you, you’re going to struggle with this important part of the job.

The manager-employee relationship is not a friendship. But it is a deeply human relationship, and when it works, it unlocks human potential.

This article is part of our monthly Ask an Expert series—a column dedicated to helping you tackle your biggest career concerns. Our coaches are excited to answer all of your burning questions, and you can submit one by emailing us at editor(at)themuse(dot)com and using Ask a Candid Boss in the subject line.

Your letter may be published in an article on The Muse. All letters to Ask an Expert become the property of Daily Muse, Inc and will be edited for length, clarity, and grammatical correctness.

Millennials are learning the hard way that your boss is not your friend

Jokes were exchanged over Gchat, weekend drinks scheduled via text messages; in their four-year relationship, no personal topic was off-limits.

So when the time came for the 23-year-old to give notice to his 27-year-old boss, the COO of a San Francisco startup, it was one of the most difficult moments of his life.

“Looking back, I would change all the personal stuff that I shared with my boss,” says Kyle, who suffered through months of awkward and sometimes tense discussions with his former boss, who was eager for him to stay. “At times we were so close that I didn’t know if he was speaking to me as the boss or as my friend, and it got to a point where they mixed together.”

He is not alone. In offices across the country, a recalibration in the boss-employee relationship is taking place.

Part of it has to do with the way offices are now structured — both physically and symbolically. The rigid office hierarchies of the Mad Men era have been replaced by open floor plans and a more casual egalitarianism.

Corporate America’s strict adherence to titles is now often frowned upon, and in some instances replaced by whimsical stand-ins. Service technicians at Apple retail stores are known as “geniuses”; receptionists at Houghton Mifflin are “directors of first impressions.”

In this new culture, ideas are more easily exchanged, creativity can thrive and it’s a more fun way to spend your day. But for young professionals like Kyle, the shift to a more casual workplace can create confusion in their work relationships, most notably with their bosses. Further blurring those boundaries are the inter-office communication platforms — like Slack, Campfire and Flowdoc — each of which have their own protocols, and most of which promote casual and fluid banter.

“There is no question that the way we communicate now — mainly through technology — has changed office culture. It has created a more informal joking communication between colleagues, and to some extent between bosses and employees,” says Hilary Pearl, who is founding partner of Pearl Associates, an executive coaching and organizational consulting firm. “It used to be a phone call. Now it’s Slack or Google Chat. There is more shorthand messaging; more acceptance of jokey, teasey informality.”

This trend towards more casual boss/employee relations is part of a larger transformation of the workplace. Companies in competitive industries are now judged by their cultures and their ability to offer environments where an employee’s “work self” is interchangeable with his or her “personal self.” Casual dress and demeanor reign; leisure activities, even while on the clock, are widely accepted. Stuffy formality is to be avoided at all costs.

But this new informality presents its own set of challenges. For employees like Kyle, who are just starting their careers, establishing boundaries between work and personal life is crucial. For managers, there are many new challenges.

“I honestly wouldn’t mind if some of our communication went back to being more formal,” says Chuck Murphy, president of the L.A.-based market research firm Murphy Research. “These digital communications have created a ton of new problems, and it has become a lot more complicated because the barriers have broken down. It can be really tricky.”

Part of the problem, according to Murphy, is that younger employees often don’t view programs like Slack as an official work communication platform. As a result, an increasing amount of his time is eaten up addressing infractions caused by ill-advised digital communications.

It can also lead to legal problems. According to a recent survey, one in three women say they have been sexually harassed at work; this new form of harassment often comes in the form of a tawdry text, a sexually suggestive link or a raunchy instant message.

While not all sexual harassment claims arise from the boss-employee relationship, a boss’s management style often sets the standard for the rest of the office. “People get really confused about what their relationship is supposed to be with their boss and their colleagues,” says Donna Ballman, a Florida-based labor attorney who specializes in discrimination and sexual harassment cases.

Ballman says almost every discrimination case she is working on was either initiated by or includes some form of digital communication. “Your primary purpose at work is to make your boss look good. But what happens with the various forms of communication is people let their guard down, they get overly familiar with their boss and they slip into the same habits that they have with their friends,” says Ballman.

Many startups don’t have human resources departments to help police and resolve these issues. In those cases, Pearl urges her clients to write an employee instructional handbook that lays out proper office etiquette and standardized rules that apply to the bosses on down. “It is all cultural, and that starts from the top.”

As for Kyle, he ultimately ended up on good terms with his former boss, as well as learning a valuable lesson: understanding the nuances, or, as he put it, having an ear for the varied tones of the workplace. “You have to understand which tone you are hearing (from your boss). Is it the comforting friendship tone? Or is it the work tone, where you’ve just got to get shit done?”

Peter Kiefer is a writer in Los Angeles.

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