Having a friendship with your boss: the do’s and don’ts

Over a lifetime, the average person will spend about one-third of their life at work. That’s about 90,000 hours. Consecutively that’s about ten years – that’s a lot. With the amount of time we spend at work, organic relationships are bound to develop; it’s only natural to seek out some degree of enjoyment and socialize with those around us.

Not only do friendships help us break up the monotony, they’re actually beneficial to our job performance. In fact, research has shown that having friends in the workplace can boost job satisfaction and increase productivity. But while work relationships can be valuable, they can also muddy the waters, particularly when that relationship is with your boss. 

The truth is most people choose lateral friendships, so to speak, because they’re far easier to navigate. Honestly, work is stressful enough, who needs yet another thing to worry about, like office gossip, jealousy, and perceptions. 

While being friends with your boss isn’t necessarily taboo, it’s still advisable to proceed with caution. If you find yourself navigating the choppy waters of being friends with your boss, here are a few do’s and don’ts. 

Do

Establish boundaries

When it comes to being friends with your boss, maintaining professional relationship boundaries might be rule #1. If you’re pals outside of work, that’s great; just remember that work comes first, and friendship comes second when you’re on the clock. Another good rule of thumb for establishing boundaries is to keep the shop talk to a minimum (or nix it altogether) when you’re outside of work. Discuss work during work time, and keep your leisure time light and breezy. 

Exercise discretion and be aware of perceptions 

While you don’t necessarily need to hide your relationship in the shadows, you shouldn’t flaunt it either – unless you’re trying to spark animosity and anger your co-workers. If you’re friends with the boss, play it cool; otherwise, you run the risk of disquieting your co-works and/or alienating them. Remember that perception is everything. 

Understand that you’ll be held to the same standards 

Your friendship does not change your set of obligations, nor should it diminish your drive to fulfill them. Remember that, if and when you fall short, your boss must hold you to the same standards regardless of your weekend plans ahead. 

Respect their authority 

Be sure to respect the fact that your boss has a job to do. No doubt there will be times when you’ll miss something, or fall short in some way (no judgment, no one’s perfect), and your boss will have to do what bosses do. Whether it’s a reprimand or otherwise giving directions, the power dynamic must remain intact, friend or no friend you have to respect his/her authority. Failure to do so is one sure-fire way to make things even more awkward in an already precarious situation. 

Don’t

Expect (or accept) preferential treatment

While your relationship can certainly be one of mentorship and professional development, don’t expect favoritism or even accept preferential treatment. Under no circumstances should you attempt to use your relationship as leverage — for anything. Also, realize using your friendship in this way is probably the fastest way to lose the respect of your co-workers. Not to mentions that suspicions of favoritism will also put your boss in a difficult position.

“Don’t expect any kind of special treatment or consideration because your boss is your friend. This is exactly the kind of situation people are wary of when they make policies forbidding these kinds of friendships,” said Jon Hill, Chairman/CEO of The Energists. Hill goes on to say, “If any kind of nepotism or favoritism does happen, this could lead to enacting policies banning these kinds of friendships—basically, you’ll ruin it for yourself and everyone else.”

Gossip or vent about co-workers   

No matter how comfortable you may feel, don’t vent commiserate, or otherwise gossip about your co-workers. Understand that your boss still has a responsibility to the job, and at the end of the day, he/she will have to respond to information accordingly — however, it was obtained. Bashing your co-workers crosses a line, and it could cost others their job. Don’t volunteer information and steer clear complaining, no matter how innocuous you think it is.

Don’t step in it with your social media

If you choose to be friends with your boss, remember that you have to keep it professional first and foremost, and more often than not, social media precludes that. Besides, do you really want to second-guess every social post you make, wondering what your boss will think?

“Be careful about being friends on social media. If your boss sends you a friend request, it’s up to you to decide to accept or decline. While you can be friends, you also want to keep up a standard of professionalism. Your latest Facebook post might not allow for that,” said Tim Reitsma, Co-Founder of People Managing People 

Don’t discuss your personal life 

When you strike up a friendship with your boss, there’s little doubt that the lines between your personal and professional lives will certainly be blurred. But make no mistake, your personal life has no business in the workplace. Sharing information like that makes things exponentially more awkward, and at the end of the day, what is your boss supposed to do with that information? Treat you differently? That’s not allowed, remember? — see above. 

So there you have it, folks, some do’s and don’ts for being friends with the boss. While this type of relationship isn’t impossible, maintaining professional boundaries and exercising discretion are the keys to keeping everyone happy and productive.