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Manager employee relationship – when bosses are friendly with employees

manager employee relationship

nuff said

When bosses are friendly with employees

Can the manager-employee relationship be friendly? I am asked some form of this question on a regular basis, and I believe the answer SHOULD be yes. Sometimes, the question comes from an individual contributor who is now reporting to someone who used to be a peer and is wondering if the relationship will change. Other times, the question arises because an individual contributor says, “I don’t want to manage my friends”. In reality I think the real crux is the fear they may have to fire their friend. I think both attitudes are whackity-whack. For all of you who were thinking about a physical relationship, shame on you. This isn’t that kind of site. 

First things first:

Thing 1:

If you are NOT able to hold a friendship with your manager, don’t expect to get very far.

Thing 2:

If you DON’T want to be friends with the team you are managing, don’t expect to get very far.

I am not saying you need to kiss up to your manager, sleep with your manager, or put up some fake, insincere front. I am saying we should have the emotional intelligence and maturity to be able to have a positive relationship with just about anyone we work with. We should absolutely be able to have a similar manager-employee relationship. After all, this is the person who can have the most influence on your career.

I should be able to hang out for drinks, go to the occasional ball game with company tickets, or have lunch with my manager within a manager-employee relationship. I also want to hear advice, mentorship, or career guidance from a manager and a friend.

I am NOT saying we need to elevate our relationship to BFF status with pinky swears. I don’t expect anyone to share the chewing gum you are currently chewing that might still have some flavor in it. 

The strong manager-employee relationship

Personally, I have learned the most from prior managers where there was a strong manager-employee relationship. I would say that in a number of cases, my best managers have been best friends and mentors. For some, this may sound weird, but for me, it makes total sense. I want to see my manager / good friend be successful, and my manager / best friend wants to see me be successful. If my friend isn’t going to give me any advice, who will? It takes an emotional investment and courage to give real advice and that isn’t going to come from someone who doesn’t care. How can we not help but align and accomplish goals when we have a strong manager-employee relationship? Relationships without trust and a common goal usually fail in dating, marriage, and sports teams. It is no different with work. 

We may not always be able to pick our managers the way we pick our teams or our significant others. I get that, but we need to work with what we are given and figure out how to make these relationships work. 

Take the emotion out of the equation and just consider the business logic. Our manager can have the most impact on our career, both short-term and long-term. For this reason, it is in our best interest to maintain a positive manager-employee relationship.

Emotional Intelligence and Maturity

A strong work ethic and results are important, but we need to demonstrate emotional intelligence and maturity to accelerate our career. We need to navigate relationships long-term. We don’t want any leader to think we cannot handle sticky situations. EI and maturity will help us navigate the relationships. Successful employees are able to balance these 4 factors as they progress through their careers, whether they are managers or individual contributors. We are not discussing dating your manager, romantic dinner invites, or giving up your season tickets to the local sports team. 

It is our career, so it is ultimately our responsibility to make sure these relationships work.

Scenarios I hear on a regular basis:

“My best friend at work was just promoted to manager. The power will go to their head.”

Gimme a break. Yes, there is a slight chance that the power of becoming a manager will go to our friend’s head, but I want to throw out two questions. Would the company promote your friend if they thought the power would go to their head? Would you have become friends with this person if you thought they were one small promotion away from becoming Napoleon with an ego complex? As their friend, don’t we owe it to them to give them the benefit of the doubt and help them keep things in check? 

“I don’t want to be the manager of this group because everyone on this team is a friend. I don’t want a manager-employee relationship because I wouldn’t want to fire anyone.”

This is a cop-out. Instead of looking at the glass half empty, let’s look at the glass half full. As a friend first and a manager second, don’t we want to be the person who helps your team get promoted or land new opportunities? YOU can be responsible for making sure these folks are successful. It is you who knows what makes these individuals tick better than any manager from the outside. YOU are the one that knows what motivates these folks and turns them off. Who is better equipped to help them be successful?

manager employee relationship

Look in the mirror

Next time you hear yourself poo-pooing a manager-employee relationship or hesitating on a manager role because you would be managing your friends, take a minute for a reality check. In the immortal words of Ice Cube “You better check yo-self before you wreck yo-self”. Is it the manager role we are worried about? Or is it ourselves?

If you are wondering if you can have a relationship with a manager who was previously a peer, check yourself. Whose maturity do we really doubt? Ours or the managers? 

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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