The Friendly Manager

Should a manager be friends with his staff? Should she visit her employees' homes, socialize with her subordinates and discuss details of her, and their, personal life? Or should she remain aloof and detached? Well, as in most decisions, the answer is probably somewhere in between.

The Age-Old Question

Fraternization with the "troops" has long been frowned on in the military. Actually, more than frowned on, forbidden by the "Uniform Code of Military Justice." The officers have their "Officers Club" and the enlisted men, and women, have theirs. The thinking behind this is that it is difficult to lead, make tough decisions, and discipline subordinates when the lives of the leaders and followers are personally intertwined. Therefore, a strict hierarchy is well-established, observed, and promoted. Of course there is merit to this thinking particularly when it comes to war, but there may also be some applicability in the civil workplace. The practice reduces perceptions of favoritism, and keeps things "business-like." Business is supposed to be somewhat logical and rational, rather than arbitrary and personal.

Keep Your Business and Personal Life Separate

New managers are frequently advised to keep their business and personal lives separate. Not because managers are engaging in kinky or illicit activities, although some may, but rather to encourage business-like behavior in the office and indulge in recreational activities while away from work.

Employees can use information about the manager to gain favor or manipulate the boss. Remember "How to Succeed in Business …" when the ambitious new employee took up knitting because the boss had that pastime? Most attempts at gaining favor are far more innocent than that example, as we all want to be viewed favorably by our superiors.

A Respectful Distance

Perhaps the perception that managers should maintain a professional, rather than personal, relationship with their employees is outmoded. Undoubtedly times have changed. Maybe mixing business and personal lives is acceptable, even desirable. However, it's important to recognize the downside and act accordingly.

Responsible behavior has limits, and standards should be observed. You probably should not become "best friends" with your staff assistant or secretary. And you probably should not share your insecurities, or "spill your guts" about your love life, or personal problems. Particularly resist the impulse to criticize or complain about the firm, its management, policies, or particular individuals.

In today's environment we often spend more time at work than at home (excluding sleeping, of course). The temptation is to treat those in the workplace as "extended family," or friends, rather than business associates and employees.

Some organizations have policies which discourage or prohibit nepotism, or related activities. And, it is easy to see how conflicts of interest may come along intimate partners, married couples, and the like. Professional judgment can be compromised, and the advantage gained by one or more of the participants in such a situation can be unfair and demoralizing. Furthermore, a falling-out between the parties in an emotionally-charged relationship can easily spill over into the workplace with undesired consequences.

A respectful distance will promote healthy, productive, and constructive workplace relationships.

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