Being on good terms with people at work is something most of us want. Barring a few exceptions – the Machiavellian sharks of the professional world – we’d prefer to head into a friendly office where you can have a good natter with everyone. But for all that, there are boundaries that can be difficult to navigate if you actually become close friends with a colleague. And when that colleague is your boss, it becomes even trickier.
Genuinely getting along with your boss is fantastic in some ways; working with people you like and respect can unsurprisingly make you happier and more productive. But it can also leave you open to accusations of favouritism, or have a bad impact on your professional relationship.
So if you find yourself inching towards an actual friendship with your boss, make sure you avoid the potential downsides by following these 6 guidelines.
Find the line between sharing and over-sharing
Having conversations about what’s going on in your lives outside of work with your co-workers – including your boss – makes the office a much nicer and more social place to be.
By taking an interest in your boss’s interests, you’ll both help them warm to you, and gain some insight into what matters to them outside of work. If they’re passionate about a hobby – be it gardening, cycling, or renaissance dance – they’ll probably love talking to you about it. And although you don’t want to pry too much, if you know that they have challenges at home, like finding childcare or looking after an elderly parent, then this can help you read their mood and be a more supportive employee
Likewise, sharing things about yourself can help build a rapport with your boss. But there are definitely lines to draw when it comes to what’s appropriate to chat about at work. Saying that you had a good night socialising with friends is one thing, but letting slip that you have no memories of the night and woke up in a bathtub is not going to boost their respect for you. Even if they find the story funny, it will colour their opinion of you from then on.
Always ask yourself this before sharing something: will it help your boss get to know you as a person without damaging their view of you as a professional? If so, it’s probably ok. If in doubt, show some restraint – even if they don’t.
Steer clear of divisive issues
There’s a reason people say that you shouldn’t talk about politics and religion at work; you might find that you strongly disagree with someone about a particular issue, and it can be hard to negotiate a good working relationship with a colleague if you’ve fallen out with them. If that person is your boss, it can be even more difficult; you can’t just walk away from them and take time to cool down in the way that you can with a friend outside of work.
This doesn’t mean that you have to avoid the topics of debate altogether – there probably wasn’t an office in Britain not buzzing with conversations about Brexit in the lead up to the vote on 23rd June. But if you’re not able to put aside any differences of opinion with ease, then it’s best to steer clear of such a discussion.
Remember, this is a hierarchy
At the end of the day, you have to remember that your boss is your boss. They’re there to supervise you, give you feedback, promote you, or – if they have reason – fire you. If they give you poor feedback, it can be hard not to take it personally.
And if you’re known to be good friends with your boss and get a promotion, you could risk accusations of favouritism.
Even if you feel that you can keep things separate, keep in mind that your boss will be facing the same dilemma, and may actually feel it more keenly. Being friends with the people you manage makes it easier to have positive conversations with them, but it can also make it harder to make objective decisions or to communicate difficult messages that they need to hear. So if your boss seems to be keeping their distance, think about what it feels like to be in their shoes.
Respect the office dynamic as a whole
There will be a slightly different dynamic in every office, so pay close attention to the environment you’re working in. If the entire team – no matter their level of seniority – is very social both in and out of the office, then you should definitely try to integrate.
However, if there’s a less inclusive atmosphere, then it could be more damaging to flaunt a friendship with your boss. According to a 2015 survey by Spherion, 60% of workers believe that employees who are friends with their boss receive preferential treatment compared to those with a more distant relationship.
Although you don’t need to pretend that you’re not friends or that you don’t spend time together outside of work, try not to have any conversations with the boss in front of your other co-workers that exclude them. If you regale them with stories about an event you attending and they didn’t, you might build resentment.
And if the atmosphere at work is less cohesive than you might like, why not try building better relationships with your other co-workers and inviting them along to social events as well? Making the effort should soften any hard feelings that people have.
Don’t be an opportunist
The worst way to approach a friendship with your boss is to see it as a way to progress your career. There are people who deliberately try and ingratiate themselves with their manager in order to try and get a raise, promotion, or other perks. Not only does this often fail, but it can backfire spectacularly if your boss senses that you’re manipulating them; you risk destroying your working relationship as well as your friendship.
Becoming good friends with your boss only makes sense if you would be friends outside of work. Otherwise be friendly, but don’t try and force a closer bond.
Being friends with your boss isn’t just about managing your face-to-face interactions: you also need to consider whether to connect with them on social media. This mostly depends on your own attitude to social media, though there are some clear guidelines. If your Facebook is full of embarrassing pictures, that’s pretty much an automatic no, while connecting on LinkedIn is generally a great idea.
There’s nothing wrong about adding your supervisor online, but just be aware that you will need to curate the content that you put up to make sure it’s not giving off a bad impression. To an extent that’s true anyway – if your profiles are public, you need to make sure they’re respectable. But connecting with your boss means that you need to pay that bit more attention to what you post online.
ABOUT AUTHOR: Claire Kilroy is a content writer for the UK’s leading graduate recruitment agency, Inspiring Interns. Check out their website if you’re on the hunt for internships and graduate jobs in London and beyond.