Friendships at work may seem like a potential distraction to productivity, but research from Gallup points out that employees who find a best friend at work “are seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs, are better at engaging customers, produce higher quality work, have higher well-being, and are less likely to get injured on the job.” Workplace friendships clearly have a lot of bonuses. However, when you are the boss, workplace friendships are more complicated. You may consider yourself friends with your employees, but friendships cannot eclipse your responsibilities as a boss. The following list of DO’s and DON’Ts will help leaders navigate workplace relationships.
DO express interest in your staff
It’s important to be professional at work, but professional does not mean cold and distant. Leaders who remain aloof and detached will have a hard time building trust with their employees. Global Officer, Worldwide Operations at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, L.L.C., Bob Kharazmi, notes, “Leadership is about effectiveness, and effectiveness comes when you create relationships with your team. Your influence is dependent upon the relationship you have with your team.” When you take the time to get to know a little about your employees—find out what their hobbies are, the names of their pets, their favorite sports team—you are showing you care. Consequently, your staff will feel recognized and more valued.
DON’T show favoritism
Pretend you have 10 people reporting to you. Chances are that you will connect with one or two of your employees better than the others. You may be tempted to spend more time with the employees you enjoy most, or give more attention to the employees you feel are doing the best job. However, when one employee appears to be receiving perks due to a friendship, colleagues can become jealous and employee morale suffers. According to the article “The Dangers of Playing Favorites at Work,” even “subtle indications of favoritism … can be … frustrating to employees and detrimental to company culture.” The article also states that, “at extremes, favoritism can lead to lawsuits.” As a leader, you must strive to treat all of your employees with the same amount of care and appreciation.
DO respect your employees’ privacy
One of the Service Values at The Ritz-Carlton vows to “protect the privacy” of fellow employees. Your employees may share confidential information with you from time to time. Regardless of whether they are telling you as a friend or as a boss, your role is to practice discretion and honor their trust in you. You must also be understanding—and not take it personally—if employees choose not to connect with you over social media. Some of your staff may prefer to keep their work life and personal life separate.
DON’T forget to ask about challenges
If an employee has shared a personal crisis with you, be sure to follow up and check in with that employee. Expressing concern by asking, “How are you?” can be a great first step, but avoid asking too many questions. You don’t want to seem as if you’re spying or prying. Be sure your employee is aware of any services your organization offers that could be helpful—such as counseling or legal help. According to research from Bensinger, DuPont & Associates, 47% of all employees reported that the stress from a personal problem impacts their work performance. Expressing compassion is important and right. However, since you and/or your team will possibly be taking on extra work to support this employee, you have to ensure that you don’t over-extend your staff for the sake of a friendship.
DO remember that you are the boss
Because you are the boss, you have a significant impact on your employees’ careers. Most likely, you are giving them performance reviews, recommending them for promotions and even deciding if they should lose their jobs. It’s important for employees to be in your good graces, and this means that their praise may not always be completely genuine. While some employees may blatantly “kiss up” to a boss, others may be more covert in their insincerity. You may feel an employee’s friendship is not motivated by ambition or selfishness—yet in hindsight, you may discover that it was self-serving all along. Leaders can be particularly susceptible to disingenuousness. The “Field Guide to the Social Climber” cites a study that shows, “when you are the object of effusiveness, you fail to recognize the brown-nosing not out of vanity but rather from a desire to be liked and admired.”
DON’T let friendship get in the way of hard conversations
Being a leader means that you need to give feedback, select whom to promote or demote and possibly even lay off or fire an employee. When you become friends with your employees, these difficult conversations become even more challenging. The article, “One Out of Every Two Managers is Terrible at Accountability,” claims that “by far and away the single-most shirked responsibility of executives is holding people accountable.” Adding friendship to a work relationship can make accountability more difficult. Leaders who try to sidestep confrontation may dread disciplining friends, and no one wants to be in the position of deciding whether to lay off their friends.
Importance of Relationships
One of the Service Values at The Ritz-Carlton begins, “I build strong relationships….” This includes relationships with customers and colleagues. You can determine the parameters of these relationships. In other words, you may not want to invite employees over for dinner parties. However, it is important to talk and connect with your employees. Building strong relationships at work will create an atmosphere of care, respect and appreciation and will help everyone work together more effectively. ∞
The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center offers advisory services, courses and presentations to organizations that wish to benchmark the award-winning business practices of The Ritz-Carlton. Your organization can learn about The Ritz-Carlton methodology for customer service, employee engagement and leadership development. We also guide organizations through a multi-step process in order to achieve sustainable culture transformation.