Supervisors Should Be Great . . . Should They Be A Friend?

In the work place, people are primarily there to “get the job done”.  Whatever the task, the department or the role . . . employees are there to complete their duties as assigned in a timely and efficient manner.  In order to incorporate a reporting structure and differentiate responsibilities, the majority of workplaces implement a hierarchical structure.  In its simplest form, it clearly delineates who reports to whom, who is responsible for whom and where control may lie in the face of difference or decision making.

It is important that regardless of structure, there is a level of respect, consideration and trust within employee relationships.  Often when people work together for long periods of time, they get to know each other on a personal level and include conversation about home, life, family as well as their work.  They may also begin to spend time together on a social level outside of the office.  How well employees get along and the strength of the connectedness is usually easy to see and measure (also known as morale).

Most employers actually want their staff to have friendships as well as working relationships.  It forges the trust and respect and increases retention because of a feeling of belonging.  But should this also apply to supervisors and their employees?  Should supervisors be friends with their staff outside of work or does this blur the lines of authority and supervision?

Let me pose a few questions to get you thinking about this further:

1.  Will supervisors make different decisions because of emotion?

I don’t want to hurt this employee’s (my friend) feelings?

I don’t want to run the risk of having him/her made at me because it will ruin our friendship.


2.  Does objectivity get lost when balancing decisions and actions on “friend or employee’?

I know this person well and he/she does not like doing tasks like this?

Bob is going through a tough time at home, now might not be the best time to make this request of him.


3.  Will favouritism enter the workplace?

Sue always gets off easy because she is a friend of the manager.

I won’t bother asking for that project because the supervisor will give it to one of his “drinking buddies”.

The research is vast and reliable to show that employees don’t leave jobs, they leave bad bosses.  There is a fine line between supervisor and friend and this line can help workplace relationships or get in the way to create bad managers.  There is no “across the board” answer to this question – each workplace, department and team must do what fits for them.

What is essential, regardless of level of interaction and sociability, is open and honest communication amongst colleagues.  Be sure to put problems, ideas and options on the table for all to see – be transparent.  If subjectivity is true, then it should not be an issue to explain rationale, decisions, appointments and requests.

Are you a transparent supervisor or is friendship getting in the way?

If your management and staff are struggling with morale, relationship fit and crossing those fine lines, contact us at or 604-349-8660.  There is nothing better than sorting through the problem areas (and people) to create solutions that will align your team and improve your productivity, retention and morale. We can help your leadership learn these tools and more; check out our Building Better Bosses Program.

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