Can bosses and employees be buddies?

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Although there are no laws that state that you cannot buddyup with your team as the chief executive officer or employer, there are a few guidelines you should consider before becoming friends with one of your employees.

A few years ago, Jane found herself uncomfortably witnessing a painful breakup. But it was not a couple struggling through a divorce; it was the undoing of a friendship, complicated by the fact that the two people in question were a boss and his subordinate, Jane says. “They were once so close that the boss, James (not his real name) and Mary (also not her real name), took family vacations together. Because they also frequently commuted to and from work together, the rest of us came to understand that Mary had unique access to our boss and that she was in a position of power because of it. Mary did not always do work as expected by her supervisor, though when questioned, she would report her to the chief, saying she was not giving her a good atmosphere to work well. Then Mary’s supervisor would also report to the chief about Mary’s ineffectiveness and, in return, he would accuse her of hindering the progress of Mary’s work.

This created a tense atmosphere in office revolving around Mary, her supervisor and the CEO. According to Cathy Caprino, a career coach, This is a complex issue that does not have a clear solution because it touches on the deeper aspects of human experience, such as power dynamics, dealing with bias, staying emotionally well during a crisis, boundary development, demonstrating integrity and more.

“I think the answer to this depends on how we define “being friends.” It is wonderful to have a friendly relationship between a boss and subordinates — to have an easy-going, open and friendly rapport based on mutual respect, care and concern.”

“However, if we are talking about taking it further — socialising outside of work, having your boss meet your family, sharing long periods of time together and intimate details of your life and so forth, then you are sailing very tricky waters and you have to know how to handle the situation effectively,” Caprino said.

“Doing this well involves building strong boundaries so that the “friendship” does not impact how you perform your work together and how you relate as professionals in a situation where the power between you is not equal,” she explains.

“It can also backfire terribly… There are some real pitfalls to watch out for in developing a friendship with your boss or employee. A romantic relationship is far trickier and is not advisable. Why? Because when there is a significant power differential in a relationship, and when one party can directly influence and impact the other’s ability to succeed in their role, then equality is not possible because if and when the relationship falters, there can be a huge price to pay,” she says.

The chief executive officer of PesaMoni Limited, Asher Namanya, advises that the boss in such a relationship ought to be very careful and judicious. “When we are talking about a boss — we mean the one with the greater power in the organisational hierarchy. He or she has to be very cautious and prudent. Everyone has a dark side, and if this side of the senior is revealed to the juniors, the respect is lost and, even performance at work is affected, Robert Shisa, the human resource business Partner of Uganda Clays, says.

“For example when a boss initiates a friendship with an employee or subordinate, there is always a power aspect to it. Pretending there isn’t is just denial. What if the employee does not want to be friends, but now feels pressure to act like they do?” I would discourage this kind of friendship,” Shisa says.

“I believe that if you are the one with the power, it is best to have stronger, better wellformed boundaries and not directly pursue a friendship with a subordinate, unless it forms more naturally,” he insisted

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