As a leader, it’s your responsibility to build strong, genuine and well-meaning relationships with your employees – it’s pivotal for creating a positive work culture, plus it has a major impact on engagement and productivity levels. But does that mean it is okay to be their friend, too?
Well, that’s entirely up to you. Some leaders prefer to draw a clear line between them and their employees, while others are a little more liberal in their approach – but what’s right and wrong largely depends on your style of leadership.
To help you navigate your way through these murky waters, here’s some things to bear in mind when socialising with your employees:
Establish strong work-based relationships.
As you’ve probably already noticed, you can get to know someone better over a five minute chat outside of the office than you can working with them over an entire working week (or month).
So it’s important to make time for you and your team to bond. This could include taking a new starter out for lunch on their first day, or organising a group activity, or the occasional trip to the pub after work. It could even be as simple as a coffee run.
The foundation of these relationships play a crucial role in your ability to function as a team, so putting in the effort to get to know one another will help create a collaborative and agile team environment.
Remember, you’re still in charge.
During these out of office scenarios, it’s completely fine to be yourself and let the walls come down a bit, but remember, the relationship between a leader and their employees is, and will always be, different from the relationship between colleagues on the same level.
Why? Because you’re also responsible for reviewing their performance, helping them progress in their careers, and the moment things turn pear-shaped, clamping down and telling them when they’ve made a mistake.
And when you’re in social situations, you’re still the leader – which means you’re still responsible to report everything and anything you see or hear - even if you’re at the pub. (This can easily become a problem when alcohol is involved.)
The same principles apply to you - if you’re swinging from the chandelier at the office Christmas party, people will struggle to take you seriously when you’re back in the office.
Establish boundaries between your professional and your personal life.
Once you’ve gotten to know your employees a little better, you may find some of them slipping dangerously close to the “friend” territory.
The best piece of advice: take things slowly. There will be people that you immediately click with and you’ll naturally become friends in due course, but there will be others that might try to use this newfound friendship to their advantage – either intentionally or unintentionally – which could put you in a difficult spot later down the track.
Do your best to remain objective as a leader - favouring some employees over others because of your personal feelings towards them is obviously not acceptable. Put some boundaries in place. When you’re at work, use your language and tone of voice to dictate how you want the conversation to carry out and your employees will pick up on it.
And lastly, don’t take things too seriously. Most employees who you are on friendly terms with will respect you and your position over them, and if they don’t, well, they’re probably not worth being friends with, right?