Don’t Do This If You're a First-Time Boss
It can be lonely at the top when you’re a new manager, and naturally you want to create a healthy and effective work environment with your team. But even with the best intentions to be the boss you’d want to have for yourself, there’s an easy mistake that you might be making: treating your team like they’re your friends.
Whether you’re starting out in a new job, finally got that promotion or have even been a manager at your workplace for some time, it’s understandable that you’d fall into the habit of trying to be friends with your team.
All the time spent at the office can make coworkers feel like a family, replicate the social dynamics of friend groups, or even, at their worst, begin to feel like a high school clique.
It’s also natural that you’ll get to know your team in the same way you would your friends outside the office. It’s definitely not a bad thing to want to be liked as a boss, but it’s important to set boundaries.
One of the biggest struggles managers have – especially if you’re new and trying to establish yourself – is figuring out how to establish their authority in the right way. Some new managers tend to become little tyrants, cracking down on the slightest bit of dissent and making unreasonable demands to signal that they’re the ones in charge. This way of managing often results in a resentful team and less than top-notch work over the long term. The opposite tactic of becoming best buds with those you are managing, however, isn’t exactly ideal either.
Studies have shown that employees who are close with their bosses are actually less pressured to immediately return favors or reciprocate goodwill to their manager than other coworkers. This may be because members of staff have less of a need to please when they’re in a too-comfortable dynamic with their manager.
Another problem with becoming pals with your team is that it’s hard to return to a position of power once you’ve crossed established BFFship. If you decide that you need to crack down in order to meet a big deadline or finish an important project, it might be more difficult to command the authority and urgency you had before making friends with your team. They might wonder why the fun, easygoing person they routinely down beers with has done a 180 and become someone who actually lays down the law.
Manager-employee friendships that involve favoritism can also create a divisive work environment. Even if you don’t intend to give preferential treatment to certain people, doing so can leave you looking unprofessional, and the rest of your team feeling bitter. As a manager, you’ve already got enough to worry about without having to think about the way your potentially misguided actions could be perceived.
If you get a promotion that puts you in charge of people you already count as your close friends, it can be a bit trickier. After all, everyone wants to work with their friends until you have to tell them why they’re not getting that raise they wanted. But there are ways of handling your friendships with people in cases where you’re also their superior at work.
It’s important to set some ground rules and expectations in order to keep the office and fun separate. Setting limits, like not talking about work outside the office, is a good place to start.
The real goal should be balance – don’t deprive yourself of being a well-liked member of your work community, but know your place when it comes to respecting the relationship boundaries within your team. Don’t try to include yourself in every after-work happy hour or office gossip sesh, and don’t be afraid to let it be known you’re the boss when you do. You’ll find yourself a more effective manager, enjoying the best of both worlds while still maintaining a healthy connection to your office life.