How to make sure your personal connections at work are healthy and productive.
7 min read
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Numerous research projects have found that having friends at work is a good thing. Science has found that meaningful friendships in the workplace have benefits like increased emotional well-being, trust, and loyalty. It’s also good for you physically. Making and keeping workplace friends will reduce stress and anxiety and increase your productivity. Your career friendships lead to more candid feedback, a greater sense of belonging, and improved teamwork and collaboration.
Of course, if you’ve ever watched The Office, you know there’s a vast difference between the relationship with Jim and Pam, and those two have a different relationship with Micheal. The friendship between Jim and Pam is organic. But, the relationship with Michael, it’s the opposite. The Michael connection is unnatural and awkward. But, that’s what makes him both a great leader — and yet, a terrible leader.
Related: The Difference Between Being a Boss and Being a Friend
Since we don’t work at Dunder Mifflin, should you befriend your employees in real life? And, if you determine friendships in your company are for you — how can you make sure that these connections are healthy and productive?
For starters, yes, you can be friends with your employees. That’s because it comes with advantages like having a fun and relaxed atmosphere. The connection can also help you get to know each other better. As a result, you’ll have more respect and appreciation for one another. And, you’ll be more committed to helping each other out when needed.
On the flip side, there are disadvantages. For example, if the friendship goes south, it could lead to conflicts that have nothing to do with work. When the connection has negative consequences, performance decreases, and a toxic work environment has been created. Another issue you may have to face is that to remain friendly with an employee — other people may resent how close you are. The suspicious sort may start to think that you’re playing favorites.
That being said, to successfully be friends with your team, you’ll want to find balance. Here are some of the best ways to work towards and achieve a greater balance.
Treat everyone the same
Sometimes it isn’t easy to treat all people the same, but keep this in mind at all times. The balancing act is somewhat like being a parent who has more than one child. You can’t pick favorites, and you need to be consistent. Consider the consequences of those in unhealthy homes where a parent admits that one child is their favorite. Worse is when that parent lets the child get away with whatever they want.
I’ve found one way to keep things equal among employees at work is to pay special attention when you’re hiring new employees. I focus more on their qualifications and if the new potential hire is sold on my vision — instead of if they would be someone I want to hang out with. You look deeply for the personality issues only to do with how this individual will fit into your company culture. Resist hiring anyone merely because of their sunny disposition. You want upbeat, yes, but you need to insist on qualifications.
Additionally, be respectful to all of your employees and treat them how you would want to be treated. I doubt that you would want to work at a company where your voice is never heard; your colleagues always rely on the opportunity to speak up.
Don’t be a toxic leader
To motivate your team and achieve positive outcomes, you need to avoid disastrous leadership mistakes like:
- Publicly creating and bullying others.
- Failing to share and receive feedback.
- Discouraging creativity and innovation.
- Solving problems with a quick fix.
- Not properly delegating work to the right people.
- Resisting change.
- Micromanaging and assigning too much work to others.
- Failing to set goals for your organization.
On top of making you a more effective leader overall, improving your leadership skills will make it easier for you to treat everyone the same. Along the way, you’ll strengthen areas like communication skills and emotional intelligence.
Related: Leadership Techniques That Build Unstoppable Teams
Establish ground rules
There needs to be some distance between you and your employees. After all, you still need to have some sort of perception of hierarchy. Some understanding of authority ensures that everyone can get along just well without crossing the line.
The best way to stay within guidelines is by establishing ground rules. For example, you can spend time outside of work during happy hour, volunteering, or when attending industry events. But, you may have a policy that you do not attend the birthday party of your employee’s children or that you never drink alcohol with them.
Another example would be you maintaining a difference with employees for your on social media. You might determine to connect with them on LinkedIn, but not on Facebook or Twitter. Keeping a separation on social is a way you can retain your own separate lives that aren’t work-related. Don’t contact employees during off-hours. Even if you’re close to a co-worker, never confide in them sensitive information — thus preventing any gossip from infesting your business.
It probably wouldn’t hurt to take the employee out for coffee or lunch and explain these ground rules. Assure all employees that it’s not personal; it has to be this way for legal and ethical purposes.
Take the time to nurture the relationship
Don’t hide out in your office all day. Get out there and mingle with everyone. Have them lunch with them — schedule one-on-ones with each team member. And, occasionally get your hands dirty and work in the trenches with them.
When you take the time to get to know your employees, you get to find out what their interests are and what makes them tick. You get to learn what hidden talents they possess. And, you may discover that you have more in interest then you previously thought.
Related: How To Forge More Productive Relationships With Employees
Be honest, trusting, and understanding
“All strong relationships are built on honesty,” writes Tamara Luzajic for Humanity. “And just like a good friend would tell you when you are doing something wrong no matter how much it hurts, a good manager will use open communication to help employees become better at what they do.”
“Honesty is one of the best principles you can use to establish a healthy balance between caring your employees and leading them professionally,” adds Luzajic. “The closer you get to someone on a personal level, the harder it becomes to give them honest feedback as employees.”
Additionally, build trust with each of your employees. For example, grant them autonomy and flexible schedules. Trust in your employee builds resilience — shows you rely on them enough to work where, when, and however they prefer. As a result, this will create a more positive and productive culture.
And, if someone needs to take a day off because they’re attending to a sick family member, don’t freak out on them. Give them the day off without penalizing them.
Enlist the help of a third party
Finally, if you don’t feel confident enough to strike a balance between being a boss and friend, seek assistance from someone else. For instance, you may want to have an unbiased party make important decisions, such as promoting or firing employees. Don’t mention anything about your personal feeling and relationship to the third party — and give them complete autonomy to determine the decision.
As the boss, you’ll want to take care of your own well being as far as workplace connections. Do what’s best for your emotional well being and your emotional intelligence so that you can stay at the top of your team productivity.