How friendly can you be with your boss?

Depending on what survey you read, up to 60% of relationships start at work

How friendly can you be with your boss?

With a loosening of the boundaries around work attire and, to a lesser extent language, brings with it a new set of challenges. One of those is the workplace relationship – specifically regarding manager and employee.

Depending on what survey you read in what part of the world, up to 60% of relationships start at work. No doubt this figure has curtailed in the past two years due to COVID forcing people to work from home, but it does raise the question of how friendly can you be with your work colleagues and your boss?

“We all aim for good relationships with our boss and colleagues, and it is common for friendships to form in the workplace, as we do spend most of our time together,” Alex Hattingh, chief people officer at people-management platform, Employment Hero, said. “But it is important that when a friend becomes your manager, there is a little structure in place to help you work better together. It can be a delicate situation that needs to be handled effectively. Building strong boundaries can ensure that the ‘friendship’ will not impact professionalism and performance in the workplace.

“You need to have an open conversation about how you want to work best together and how you would like to approach feedback and sensitive conversations.”

The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (SDA) makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person because of their sex, gender identity, intersex status, sexual orientation, marital or relationship status, family responsibilities, because they are pregnant or might become pregnant or because they are breastfeeding.

But office relationships, depending on where you work, are allowed in some companies, and are frowned upon in others because they can lead to alleged favouritism and discrimination against others.

“Actions speak louder than words, so remember to uphold professional integrity in the office and save your friendship for outside the workplace,” Hattingh added. “Scripts for meetings can help keep you on point. It is also important that you treat all people in your team with respect and fairness. Make sure that work is evenly distributed, and don’t favour a friend over another employee because they are your friend. Your role as a manager is to support all your people to reach their goals.

“Preferential treatment or being biased on work performance is inappropriate. This can throw the balance of the team and can incite jealousy, or potentially make them feel like they are not seen or appreciated. This can lead to emotionally charged reactions that can affect the reputation of the company and affect the morale of employees.”

The reality is that we are all human and are prone to inherent bias when it comes to favouring someone we like. This is when we need to step back and take an objective view by writing down what we are about to do in terms of workplace arrangements and even seek out an independent third party to assist us in our decision-making.

“With regards to boundaries in relationships, if a colleague is getting too familiar with you, discussing topics that make you uncomfortable or encroaching into your personal life, it’s best to start with a conversation directly with that person,” Ineke McMahon, director, P2P Learning and Development Academy, said.

“If the behaviour is not modified, human resources can be a fantastic assistance to help you to correct the behaviour. Most human resource professionals are people orientated and will want to see the best result for you. They can be your best advocates.”

Establishing boundaries at work are an important step in all work colleague relationships. If you do develop a relationship with a colleague then it is important, if required, to communicate that to your immediate boss/human resources person and/or CEO, depending on the size of the company, so there are no secrets.

“A boundary is a limit defining your relationship to someone,” McMahon added.  “In the workplace, there are mostly emotional and not tangible.  A boundary is important to help to clarify what is our responsibility and someone else’s.  Setting the right boundaries can lead to a more pleasant work experience.”

Relationships in the workplace will happen. Just make sure it is done in an appropriate manner and that no one is disadvantaged as a result.

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