Company Culture

Change the Rules! Why Employer-Employee Friendships Work.

A CEO offers three ways in which bridging the gap between manager and friend has helped his company succeed.
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The majority of business owners these days will tell you that a critical element in any successful manager/employee relationship is early establishment of personal and professional boundaries. That’s because so many of us have believed our entire professional careers that employers and employees cannot work well together and be friends.

Related: 3 Ways to Create the Company Culture You Want

In fact, in a survey by H.R. consulting firm Robert Half International, six out of 10 managers admitted that they were uncomfortable being friended on Facebook by their bosses or employees -- a reflection of how this belief has been passed on to the latest generation of professionals.

But, what if the opposite were true? What if becoming good friends with your employees would make you a more effective manager and mentor -- and, they, more productive students of your business?

While conventional wisdom says we should avoid building friendships across reporting lines, I’ve long embraced the human connection between all of my colleagues regardless of title, tenure, role or responsibility.

At Power, this approach has no doubt played a large role in some of our proudest achievements, such as being named the Number One Workplace for Millennials in 2015 by Fortune. Indeed, the majority of our employees surveyed by Great Place to Work and the magazine reported a feeling of “openness across company lines” and satisfaction at “being a part of something special alongside their friends” and said that those factors helped determine their happiness at work.

Nor are we alone in our approach. Companies known for their corporate culture, such as Google, Twitter and Quicken Loans, have gone on record with their belief that employee satisfaction depends on ensuring that employees feel like a part of the team both inside and outside of work.

That said, creating a culture where personal and professional relationships thrive takes a concerted effort. Here are three rules we employ to achieve this unique dynamic:

1. Truly know your employees.

Friendships spawn from caring, and caring takes commitment. Make it a priority to really get to know the people who work for you. Learn what and whom they care about, where they come from, what inspires them and where they aspire to be. When you know what drives them, you'll find it easier to lead them. Most importantly, return the favor. Open yourself up and let people in, blemishes and all. Over time, people may forget what you said, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel.

2. Create clear boundaries early on.

When it is time to work, it’s time to work. It’s important that employees know that you have expectations of them, and that those expectations must be met in order to achieve their professional goals. Personal friendships don’t offset accountability.

Related: 10 Examples of Companies With Fantastic Cultures

3. Acknowledge equal responsibility in the success of the relationship.

In order for this relationship to flourish, no one can take advantage of the other. Employees cannot receive special privileges or treatment because of personal relationships or time spent together outside of the office. Likewise, you can’t ask or expect anything of an employee who's become a friend that you wouldn’t ask or expect of anyone else.

You can redefine what work friendships look like and, in the process, redefine your culture. As you and your employees create personal bonds, a renewed energy will permeate the workplace and successes will be shared. The result? You'll see employees turn into friends, friends turn into family and a family that grows and takes care of one another.

Related: Be a Team-First Manager and Watch Your Customer Service Soar