As a Manager, Can I Be Friends with My Employees?

In my work with Emerging Leaders, I often get asked if they can be friends with their direct report employees at work. I thought it might be a good idea to explore that question here today and see if we can start a dialogue about an important topic. Let’s explore the positives and the potential pratfalls of friendships in the workplace. Read on and let me know what you think, if you care to weigh in.

Pick a Direction and Stick to It – For heaven’s sake, don’t be unclear or inconsistent about how you are going to approach relationships at work. Identify what is most important to you early on. Decide on an approach that matches your state of mind about socializing and building relationships with coworkers and colleagues. We all know that a Manager and Leader has responsibilities that can cause damage to personal relationships. Having to discipline a friend or family member in the workplace is challenging work and introduces conflict and stress. Decide if you are a leader first, or a friend first. Realize that your decision will have consequences. Some of those consequences will be good, and some could be bad. Once you’ve decided that issue, stick with that direction and let it guide you. The reality is that with a bit of common sense, a leader can balance being a friend AND still be an honorable business leader as well. Most leaders are clear with their colleagues up front that when push comes to shove, ‘I’ve got to do what is right for the business’ and that as friends, that may cause us some uncomfortable situations one day, are you OK with that? Having set that expectation, you should be able to survive the challenges.

Build Relationships for the Long Haul – Do what you say you’re going to do. Say what you are going to do, and then do it. No surprises, ever… Each of us spends many hours at work each week, and those hours can and should be spent wisely building great long-term relationships. When you build relationships for the long-term, your word becomes your bond. People around you will watch very closely to make sure that your promises are matched by your actions. Show people your worthy intent and your best intentions, then trust will grow and fuel a solid relationship.

Beware the Booby Traps – Many a burgeoning business relationship has been damaged by careless behavior in business. Be very careful about how you handle your conduct in potentially challenging situations such as; office gossip, consumption of alcohol at company business functions, and romantic involvement with business colleagues. Ensure that your behavior and that your counsel to your coworkers closely matches your values, and you will probably be in terrific shape as you navigate these waters.

So, can you be friends with direct reports at work? Of course, you can. Is it easy? Heck no, it’s challenging. Yet, some leaders have found that being friends and a leader at the same time is possible. Still, the path is very fraught with potential problems, and your character and your behavior will have a lot to do with how you navigate these waters. Be on your best behavior, and work hard to be a great friend and a great boss at the same time, and things go better. Don’t make obvious mistakes (like asking a direct report employee out on a date), use good common sense, and seek out an advisor any time you feel like a situation is testing you. Stay on the right side of any line. 

Michael is an award winning Executive Development Coach and Business Advisor who works with medium-sized companies in the high technology industry. He develops Emerging Leaders all over the United States for computer, software, managed services and consulting companies. If you’d like more information about Michael’s Emerging Leaders development program, drop him a line at or subscribe to his YouTube channel, Michael Beach Coaching & Consulting. We hope you enjoyed this article.

2 Responses

  1. Lynn Garthwaite

    One of the best lines in this post was “Do what you say you’re going to do” – and it reminds me of parenting. People respect you much more when you are consistent with your message. Employees will respect your position and authority – and most importantly – learn to trust you, when you follow through with your expectations of them. And a good leader will apply those standards to employees who they also consider friends because doing otherwise would lead to stress and dysfunction in the workplace.

    Excellent advice from Michael Beach.

    • Michael Beach


      Thanks for making the time to visit the site and comment on the article. I am in 100% agreement with you. Over the years I have noticed that if you are inconsistent with your message or your values in any way, your credibility immediately suffers. Our colleagues must LEARN to trust us, and that takes time. It’s especially important with an employee who may be a friend as well as a direct report. Thanks again, Lynn!

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