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Should you be friends with someone you manage?

REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach
Best friends are better when they don’t report for you, writes our workplace etiquette columnist.
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Q: Should you be friends with someone you manage? 

Dear BFF,

However lonely it may be at the top, it’s better to be friendly than be friends with your staff.

A manager-subordinate relationship is often a highly complex one in which a great deal of objectivity must be maintained. For example, though it may displease a friend, a manager who is tasked with keeping things professional and doing what’s best for customers, the organization, and the greater good may have to:

  • Promote a more qualified candidate
  • Assign or reassign job roles and responsibilities to others
  • Give honest and objective critical feedback
  • Deliver unwelcome news
  • End various ventures and initiatives
  • Elect to go in a different direction than others counsel
  • Make tough decisions surrounding finances, or even employment
  • Offer differing parties differing salaries, financial bonuses, and incentives
  • Enforce corporate policies and procedures
  • Take action to address inappropriate behavior

When you’re too close with an employee, it’s going to be extra uncomfortable confronting them if their performance declines, or if you have to make an objective call that may not be the best choice in their opinion.

By all means be kind, generous, and thoughtful when dealing with staff. Be as empathetic and approachable as humanly possible. But don’t put yourself in a position that compromises your ability to do your job.

Scott Steinberg is the author of The Business Etiquette Bible.

Do you have a workplace etiquette question? Submit to Scott by emailing

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