Befriending your boss – yes or no

By Wilma Bedford

According to recent research as published in the American Time Use Survey,we  spend an average of 8.9 hours a day at work and on related activities. In contrast, we only spend around 2.5 hours on leisure and sports.

Considering that we spend significantly more time with our colleagues than our friends, it’s only logical that some of the most solid friendships are formed at work. A friendship with a co-worker can be on equal footing, because neither of you holds authority over the other in the workplace. However, when it’s your boss who’s your friend or even your BFF, the lines between professional and personal can easily get blurred.

The following scenarios will give you perspective and will provide you with dos and don’ts regarding being friends with your boss:

  • It becomes difficult for your boss to criticise you

When making a mistake while doing your job, your boss is supposed to provide the constructive criticism and guidance you need in order for you to improve in your job.  However, when your boss happens to be your friend, it can be difficult to do so, even if that criticism may be necessary for your own personal growth.  Your boss may be placed in a difficult position to offer corrections on your work as it may affect your personal relationship. If your boss is afraid to criticise you, you may continue making the same mistakes unknowingly, and your career growth may be hampered.

On the other hand, you may find it particularly harder to take criticism from someone you regard as a friend; you may tend to over-analyse the situation and come up with reasons as to why things happened the way they did. If your boss is not your friend, you will not hold anything against him or her and, most importantly, you will put reason before emotions.

  • Draw a clear line between being personal and professional

It’s critical for both your friendship and your career that you keep the two relationships separate. This is usually much easier said than done – but failing to do so can adversely impact your life. For example, if you and your boss/friend are having a difference of opinion in your personal life, that can’t affect how you work together. And at work, you still have to defer to your boss’s decisions, even if you don’t agree. You always have to bear in mind that your boss’s first responsibility is to act in the company’s best interest. At work, your friendship comes second.

When your boss is your friend, he or she may also end up taking up your free time and mentioning work when all you want to do is relax and enjoy yourself. You may find yourself unable to escape office life as your boss is free to contact you, considering how your friendship goes beyond the office. This is an unwelcome reality that may really affect your personal life.

Your boss may also use that time to ask you about some of your other colleagues, as a way to get a deeper insight into the day-to-day happenings of the office.  This could put you in a difficult position and conflict may arise in the office as some of your colleagues may accuse you of spying on them and divulging information that might have been imparted in confidence. In the end, you may end up making enemies of your colleagues instead of getting along with them.

  • Accusations of favouritism

On the surface it may seem like a good idea to be in good books with the boss, but your co-workers may eventually think that your boss is not taking a tough stance with you, as compared with them. This may lead to a hostile work environment.  You may, for instance, be promoted, not because you are friends with the boss, but because you are genuinely good at your work. However, your co-workers may think that you are being promoted only because you are friends with your boss and not because you actually earned the promotion. Even a raise for putting in hard work may be taken as a sign of favouritism.

  • Alienating your co-workers

Be aware of how your co-workers perceive your friendship. Regularly take a moment and objectively evaluate how your relationship appears to your colleagues. If your relationship at work could possibly be interpreted as unprofessional – for example, if you’re gossiping or spending more time than necessary together – then it’s time to take action to correct that. Keep in mind that even if your boss isn’t treating you any differently from the rest, if your colleagues think he or she is, it could work against you.

Also remember that your co-workers are the people you spend more time with than your actual boss in the office. Alienating them and causing them to treat you with suspicion and disdain may have you ending up hating going to work and producing poor quality work.  Ultimately you may become depressed and detest your job, something you may have actually really loved. Avoid all these scenarios and keep it professional!

  • The implications may be costly if your boss is of the opposite sex

It is always good to work well with your boss, but there may be implications if your boss is of the opposite sex.  You may really want to be friendly with your boss so that the work environment is friendly. However, what happens when your boss starts asking for more? All this can be avoided by maintaining professionalism at all times and not befriending your boss in the first place.

  • Your friendship with your boss may lead to complications within the work environment

Regardless of how much you get along with your boss, he or she will still be your boss first, and as such will always be your superior. Your boss also has an obligation to his or her boss, to deliver a particular standard of work which may be compromised if he or she takes on a relaxed approach with subordinates.

  • Revisit your priorities

Consider why you took the job in the first place. You did not join the organisation to be your boss’ favourite employee, you joined the organisation to work, improve yourself professionally and earn a living. Keep this in mind. You are only as happy as the people in your surroundings. Remember this and do not alienate them.