Should A Manager Ever Be Friends With Their Boss?

Managers have to pick their friends very carefully
Managers have to pick their friends very carefully Image Credit: Amy the Nurse

As managers, we need to be very careful as we pick who our friends in the workplace are going to be. We need to be careful to be close, but not too close, to the members of our team. We also have to use our manager skills to pick friends from our peers in order to make it easier to get things done at the office. Where things can get a little bit tricky is when we try to decide if we want to be friends with our boss. There’s no manager training for this kind of decision. Will this help or hinder our career?

Should You Be Friends With Your Boss?

Although you may be a very friendly person, you might want to pause before deciding to strike up a friendship with your boss. It turns out that it might cost you. Studies have been done that show that bosses typically give preferential treatment to those who are close to them or share something in common, like a group identity. However, now researchers say there’s a situation where it’s bad to be the boss’s friend. When bosses are handing out bonuses and when employees will know who will get the rewards, the bosses are facing a problem. The bosses want to avoid the appearance of bias. So, in cases like this they often pass over their pals and favor other workers.

Why do they do this? It’s actually fairly simple – people want to be fair, and they also want to help out their friends. The challenge is that the role of a boss is to be impartial. They are also trying to reward workers based on their efforts, and these two tendencies can conflict in the office when you’re supposed to avoid favoritism. In a recent study friends tended to suffer when the decisions were made public. In those cases, the result was that bosses rewarded the deserving employee 25% less when that person was their friend. In contrast, bosses tended to reward the slightly more deserving employee at equally high rates, whether the employee was a friend or not.

Something that managers might want to consider is that there was one case where public decisions did favor friends. This occurred when company resources weren’t at stake. The researcher found that when bosses are distributing their own resources, like their own personal tickets to a baseball game, they do show preference to their friends. Why do bosses do this? The researchers believe that other employees would approve of that decision because “people do not generally think it is inappropriate to give more to friends in the interpersonal domain”. Things like baseball tickets fall into this category.

How Managers Can Get Their Boss To Play Fair

All of this leads managers to the difficult decision that they have to make. Should they go to the effort of trying to become friends with their boss? We can all anticipate the benefits of doing this. We’d all like to be on the boss’s good side when it comes time for them to make difficult decisions like reducing staff, who gets to go with them on team building exercises, or determining who gets to lead up an exciting new project. However, if it is going to hold us back or, even worse, hurt our pocketbooks then we probably don’t want to make the effort.

The researchers who were looking into the broader implications of the findings did speculate that reverse bias could apply to many situations. This could include situations in which when academics review friends’ papers, when politicians tackle political issues involving friends, even when coaches are working with their friends’ children. This kind of behavior can also be related to group membership as well. A good example could be a reporter with liberal politics being worried about appearing biased, so he might be harder on a liberal than a conservative in order to appear unbiased.

So what is a manager to do? It turns out that there are a few ways bosses can avoid creating the bias fears regarding friends. One way to go about doing this is to put yourself in a position where you can let someone else decide whom to reward. Basically what a boss can do is to recuse themselves. In situations like this, it can be difficult to trust your own judgment where you have conflicting biases. Another strategy is to ask for other people’s opinions. Realizing that a public decision to reward a friend might appear partial if a boss can get other people agree that this person is deserving then the idea that the leader is practicing favoritism might be diminished. Finally, if the criteria for making the bonus are explicit that could help colleagues recognize that the allocation of bonuses is fair. If the boss makes the rules clear then that could be useful to mitigate the appearance of favoritism.

What All Of This Means For You

Managers are able to get things done in the workplace by knowing people. In fact, if we can become friends with people then we have an even better chance of being able to work successfully with them. It is pretty common for managers to become friends with members of their team and peers. However, when it comes to your boss you might want to pause. There can be both advantages and disadvantages to become friends with your boss.

There can be advantages to becoming friends with your boss. They may provide you with information and opportunities that you would not get otherwise. However, researchers have also found a downside to this friendship. In situations where a boss is handing out rewards that are public knowledge, you may get passed over. The boss does not want to be accused of showing favoritism. There are ways for bosses to deal with this kind of situation. They can recuse themselves or ask for other people’s opinion. They could also make the rules for getting the reward very clear so that there could be no disputes about who receives them.

Managers have to make all sorts of difficult decisions in the office. One of the trickiest is just exactly who they want to be friends with. Picking your friends can be a tricky thing to do correctly. Determining if making friends with your boss would be a good thing can be even trickery. You need to evaluate your office work environment and determine if you think that your boss can handle having you as their friend. Take your time and make the right decision.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: If it turns out that being friends with your boss is a mistake, do you think that you can unfriend them?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Here in the 21st Century, almost all managers have at least some of their workers who are working remotely some of the time. Our goal is to get the maximum productivity out of all of our team members including the remote workers. Since they are not in the office and we can’t see what they are doing, we may not be aware of just exactly how remote workers go about managing their day. What can a manager do in order to get the most out of their remote workers?