Should I be friends with my boss?

I have had summer camp jobs and university student jobs and have started to wonder what is appropriate for relationships between employers and employees. My work history has been in relatively relaxed settings, where many of my co-workers (mostly high school and college students) seem to be friends with their supervisors. Is this how the ‘real world’ works?

For me, work is where I spend the majority of my time outside of classes, and it makes it more enjoyable to work with people I appreciate being around. It seems to make the time go by faster. And, when working with and for people I am friends with, I have fun when completing my tasks or fulfilling responsibilities rather than drag through them, watching the clock.  There have been times, however, that I have wondered, “what are the professional boundaries?” and “are there consequences to employee-supervisor friendships?” Last summer, I was in a supervisor role at a day camp I worked at, and my younger sister was under my command. We joked about my power and her role, and maintained positive work and personal relationships. Yes, this caused me to think even more about being friends with my bosses at work.  With research from credible online sources and my own experiences as an employee and a supervisor, I recommend considering the following:

 What will others say? Co-workers, your supervisor’s boss…when establishing a close relationship with your boss, you need to be prepared that others may make judgments and talk about the relationship. Some may think that your relationship gives you special privileges; this can undermine your hard work and cause others to think that your success was not fairly earned.

How much should I say? Self-disclosure is another factor to keep in mind when forming a relationship with a boss. As we get close with someone, there is a tendency to share personal information with that person. Getting close to your boss can make it hard to separate your work and personal life. It is important to remember that you still want to be viewed professionally and that sharing information can potentially alter his or her perception of you as a professional. Further, your boss may disclose information to you that could be harmful to his or her professional reputation or that of the business you work for if leaked. For it to work effectively there needs to be a level of mutual respect and trust. This is easy when the relationship is good, but can be challenging to maintain if you have a disagreement or someone is hurt.

Can you handle constructive criticism from your friend as your boss? Your supervisor is responsible for making sure everyone is doing what they are supposed to do and should be focused on the company or agency’s best interests. So, it is their job to provide feedback to employees, positive and negative. It is important to view the negative feedback as constructive and an opportunity to learn and grow as an employee. It may be easier to take their words or reviews personally if you are friends, so it would be hard to hear. Being prepared for this may help, but if you don’t think you can handle it, don’t cross into the friend zone.

All of that said, friendships with bosses have been linked to happiness on the job, less turnovers, increased productivity, less stress, and higher morale in the workplace. Thus, the benefits could outweigh the risks as long as you are aware of the consequences and prepared to handle them in a professional manner.  All individuals—employees and supervisors alike—will have different reactions to the relationship, and communicating expectations about the personal and professional boundaries can also help.

Sources and Additional Resources:

Friends and coworkers – American Psychological Assocation

Just friends? What to consider before befriending your boss – Forbes

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