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People often say that you should never mix business with pleasure or work with family and friends. But within SME’s it can be difficult to avoid.

One of the challenges companies face as they grow from a micro business to an SME, is that inevitably colleagues who were in the past peers (and indeed friends, partners, family) become managers of one another. This can often lead to feelings of sour grapes and at worst, complete rebellion within the ranks.

Colleagues who were once ‘Friday night pub buddies’ suddenly move to being manager and employee. This changes the dynamic of the relationship.  In the past, there may have been conversations which just don’t seem appropriate when a friend becomes your boss, like bragging about how much you drank on Sunday night and then complaining about your Monday morning hangover…

Of course relationships will always develop at work and this is the nature of the beast (I’m not one to criticise – I met my own husband at work!). But the reality is that as a company progresses from micro business to SME you need to have boundaries between managers and employees.

Traditionally Managers Always Kept Their Distance

Conventional management would tell you it’s absolutely not OK for the boss to be friends with their team. In fact, some companies might even try to outlaw it by having guidelines in place that specifically mean that colleagues who are either in a relationship or are related cannot work together.

Lines are More  Blurred Now And Even The Most Experienced Managers Can Find Themselves In The Friend Zone

Believe me, this isn’t just something new managers struggle with (and most of them do). Experienced managers also suffer with the same issues although most would be likely to tell you that it isn’t a problem (essentially because they have already blurred the boundaries and so don’t see it as an issue!). Managers are not robots – they have feelings and emotions. Sometimes you can’t help but like one employee more than another. Sometimes workplace romances blossom between managers and employees (that’s a whole other issue). So how can they be expected to just turn those emotions off when they enter company property?

By All Means Be Friendly – But Remember You Are Not Friends

According to the English Dictionary a friend is “A person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection”. Hmmm, I’ve been a manager for a while now, and that would be how I would describe most of my employees. In fact, I would, in some circumstances, use stronger words to describe my relationship with employees – words like close, supportive, caring, trusting, fun, and respectful. I really enjoy spending time with my employees both individually and in a group. We laugh, sometimes cry and often have differences of opinion – just like friends, right?

No matter how close you may feel to an employee, it should never be confused with a real “friendship”. You might consider yourself to be a “friendly” boss, however, the role of a manager transcends friendship and creates a boundary and potential scenarios that would never exist between true friends.

The ‘Buddy Boss’ – Bad Idea Top Five

There are numerous reasons not to consider employees as friends but here are my top 5:

Your Responsibilities As A Line Manager: As a manager, part of your job is to assess your employees, to give constructive feedback, and sometimes to discipline them, even fire them. Does this sound like something you would want to do to a friend?

You And Your Company Could Get Sued: Seriously. Although this threat never seems to scare managers, yes, it’s true. You are exposing yourself and your company to the risk of discrimination lawsuits. Don’t think it never happens… does. That’s why HR people are so crazy about the issue – we are trying to protect you!

You Don’t Want To Look Like You’re In Someone Else’s Pocket: Your friend employee may have expectations of you that are unrealistic or unprofessional, such as sharing confidential information. Not ideal. Even worse if the rest of the team suspect it – whether it’s true or not.

They’re Going To B*tch About You: ALL of us complain about our bosses now and then, even the best managers. You’re kidding yourself if you think you’re immune from this. However, if you see your employees as friends, you’re more likely to take it personally.

Your Own Boss/The Board Might Not Be Too Keen: Friends let their hair down outside of work and sometimes do silly things with each other. Managers are supposed to set examples and be role models. So, as a “manager-friend”, you’re either going to be a boring uptight, friend, or an unprofessional, immature manager. Oh and remember if it’s that latter your own manager is unlikely to appreciate those pictures of you and your ‘friends’ that are all over Facebook on Monday morning!

Recently Promoted to be Your Mate’s Boss? Putting Yourself In Their Shoes Is A Good Place To Start

Think about how you’d like to be treated if your work friend had been promoted to be your boss – and let that shape your management style. Don’t cut yourself off from friendships altogether. If you do that you’ll get a reputation for having ideas above your station. There’s no reason not to still enjoy some office bonding time but you should be aware of transitioning back into that old buddy type role. And remember that in some cases people will be experiencing a touch of fear. After all, you know all about the time they called in sick to stay home and watch the entire box set of Orange Is The New Black and, they know you know.

Lead By Example and Always Be Consistent

I’m afraid this is an unavoidable fact: Getting slaughtered with the gang on shots really is something best consigned to the history books for you now. Can you socialize with your employees? Or go out for a drink? Sure. But just make it a habit to stick to one drink and be the first to leave (to give them time to moan about you). At the very least don’t be the last one to leave whilst shouting at people to stay for just one more drink!

What’s most important is that you are consistent. It’s simply confusing for people if you’re larking around one day and coming down like a ton of bricks the next. Being consistent will earn you the entire team’s respect, even if it is hard initially for some employees to see you in an authoritative role.

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Photo Credit: Office_Party_091 by Carlton Theatre Group