Friendly boss laughing with employee

Boss vs Friend – and where to draw the line

May 20, 2020 | By Charissa Mitsikas-Beasley, Vitil People Solutions

When we work in organisations, big and small alike, it is not uncommon for Perth managers and business owners to wear more than one hat. In a bid to establish healthy workplace relationships and office 'culture', those in people leadership positions like to be visible with their human capital, in the engine room where the magic happens.

With visibility comes a presumption that presence can sometimes count for more than just that. It can often be the case that employees look to their leaders as confidantes, or perhaps someone to seek counsel in when either professional or personal issues arise.

Any organisation that employs human capital, values this 'asset' as its core value. In doing so, emphasis is placed on ensuring every individual experience and performance within the organisation is nurtured and facilitated.

When performance is compromised by either a workplace grievance or a personal matter, the line between boss and friend can easily blur.

“As a boss, one advantage to having friendships with your employees is that you have a strong, positive relationship with each of them. You understand what motivates your staff, because you’ve learned about their families, their interests, their goals in life. And employees with a strong connection to their managers are more likely to work longer hours and be loyal to the company.”


Many of our Perth client organisations share a similar story when it comes to this blurred line of authority and friendship, particularly where there is no formal Human Resource (HR) department. We see varying degrees of boss / friend crossover where employees are either struggling in their own performance output at work, or have personal matters impacting on their ability to deliver core KPIs. We are often called to advise when 'a get out of jail' card is required!

These are the situations in which managers or business owners have over-compensated to their detriment, in accommodating the ongoing demands from an employee who perhaps requests flexibility above and beyond what is agreed; or perhaps needs extended time away from the office to regroup.

Whilst being fair and reasonable always predicates any situation such as this, repeated behaviours (by both the boss and the employee) carry a high risk. Setting a pattern of behaviour that suggests a boss will 'do whatever is asked' in a situation of personal struggle for an employee, sets a double standard that will soon become visible to the wider organisation. With this, the principles of fairness and equity fall by the wayside.

In advising senior leaders and business owners, our first port of call is to remind the organisation to live by its Values and its Code of Conduct. Be clear on the standard of behaviour and professionalism that your business is defined by, both internally by employees and externally by clients and customers.

The focus must then turn to the Policies & Procedures that provide your business and its people with a framework. An Employee Handbook, or Corporate Policy Pack, provided to employees upon commencement of employment, is a good way to ensure transparency of process and safeguard both the management team and the business in general, against any ambit claims or groundless grievances.

Values are a big deal. We often advise our clients to undertake a Values Review or Refresher as each new year rolls in, to ensure that their existing vision has been carried through the years ... and updated accordingly. Alignment of business practice can then occur seamlessly and without flaws, to ensure that all staff are on the same page. Where there is a sense of double standards or internal politicking going on, employee engagement and satisfaction will plummet. To avoid this, we always recommend a pulse check on where you are positioned and what your business strategy looks like.

In short, to be a good boss, and still be a good friend, establish boundaries early on. Modify your language depending on the role you need to play and, at the end of the day, rely on the resources that exist to protect and serve you and the wider workforce.

Friend or foe can often be a dangerous game to play – but doing so without a legally compliant framework is often the real gamble.

For assistance in reviewing your Code of Conduct, Policies & Procedures and HR infrastructure, contact the team at Vitil.

Vitil Outsourced Human Resources Consultants

Vitil People Solutions is a boutique HR consulting firm based across Perth, who offer flexible, reliable and affordable outsourced human resource support, people solutions and recruitment services, where your team is the key focus. By outsourcing HR to an expert in Human Resource Services, our experienced professionals can objectively assess your environment, your human capital needs, and ensure we provide advice and support to further develop your team and your businesses performance.

Contact us to discuss tailoring HR solutions to your business needs.

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