Get All Access for $5/mo

Treating Employees Like Pals Can Be a Dangerous Game. Why you should beware of "The Friend Zone."

By Brian Fielkow Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

"Keep your work life and business life separate." "Don't get involved in your employees' personal matters." "There is no place for friendships in the office." All of these sayings are age-old advice, but that advice is out of sync with what really happens in our workplaces. Inevitably, friendships form, and at times it is impossible for employees to leave personal issues at home.

Related: How Office Friendships Could Affect Your Bottom Line

As business leaders, however, we have to recognize that while work and personal lives intersect, and that while we ourselves are not immune to this intersection, we have a special responsibility to treat workplace friendships deliberately.

Knowing about your employees' personal lives is just good management. Our employees are people with lives outside of the office. Being aware of what is going on "at home" is important, as it can impact your employees' professional lives. Yet, while we have to be in tune with our employees' personal lives, we also have to be equally aware of the drawbacks of this "friend zone."

Friendships that develop among key executives and their employees can negatively impact business and professionalism. So, be mindful. When friendships form, here's what executives should be exceptionally watchful of when it comes to "The Friend Zone," and how they should manage their way through it.

Cliques are corrosive.

Allowing cliques to develop is dangerous. When a group of employees starts going out to lunch, grabbing drinks after work, gossiping and excluding others, the rest of the team may feel like anonymous, unconnected, second-class citizens (though some of whom may be your best workers). Having an office that tolerates cliques will drive these superstars out the door.

This isn't a country club.

If overt friendships develop, perceptions of an uneven playing field can fester. Employees "on the outs" start to feel that your chummy pals have better access to you than does the rest of the team and that those pals are more likely to receive special treatment (e.g., deadline extensions, time out of the office, etc.).

Related: The Benefits of Having Friends in the Office

Don't play politics.

Friendships make it more difficult to execute your duties as a manager. Imagine what will happen if a subordinate starts to take advantage of the relationship, showing up late to work, missing deadlines. Will you be prepared to act or will that person get away with things no one else does?

Create separation.

You must be able to separate friendships from the execution of your duties. When the performance of one of your friends is declining, or your friend is taking advantage of the relationship and getting away with things no one else is, you must be prepared to act. The closer friends that you are -- maybe your families and spouses are friends -- the more difficult this can become. However, your role as a manger is to handle these sorts of issues when they arise.

Related: 4 Behaviors You Never Want to See in a Leader

Friendships are going to form. Let's accept reality. But, once they do, it's all about managing them. We will have different levels of personal chemistry with different employees, and friendships may form with some and not others. Our duty to the organization is paramount. We must make an extra effort to create a level playing field. We must be equally accessible to all of our team and ensure that treatment is fair and consistent. Here's how.

Protect your people.

Safeguard a level playing field. Make yourself equally accessible to all of your team members. Ensure that treatment is fair and consistent, and avoid talking with your friends about business issues that they otherwise would not have access to.

Avoid forced fun.

If you're passionate about golf, roller skating, professional wrestling or anything else, don't make that the key for employees to have access to you. Appreciate that your workplace has diverse people with diverse interests. Don't force your personal passions on the team and don't make that the only (or best) way for them to have access.

Set boundaries.

If a strong friendship grows, have a conversation. Set mutually agreed-upon boundaries. If you're really friends, the boundaries will be accepted. If they are not accepted, then you should consider whether you're being taken advantage of.

Share the wealth.

You don't have to be "friends" to have a genuine interest in what's going on with all of your team members outside of work. Showing a personal interest in your employees' lives can help you be a better manager. For example, knowing what's going on with them personally might explain a disruption in performance and allow for faster resolution.

As leaders, we must know what is going on with our employees personally, to some degree. Showing an interest is the same as showing respect. However, be aware of when that personal interaction journeys into "The Friend Zone," and have a clear plan in place to manage it. Ignoring this reality is sure to damage your business and even your career.

Related: How Important Your Workplace Friendships Are Depends on Your Age

Brian Fielkow

Business Leader, Author, Keynote Speaker

Corporate culture and management advisor Brian Fielkow is the author of Driving to Perfection: Achieving Business Excellence by Creating a Vibrant Culture, a how-to book based on his 25 years of executive leadership experience at public and privately held companies. With a doctorate in law from Northwestern University School of Law, he serves as owner and president of Jetco Delivery, a logistics company in Houston that specializes in regional trucking, heavy haul and national freight. 

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Culture

Inflation's Next Victim Is Your Freedom — Here's Why

We get it… Most people are tired of hearing the same old story about how the American Dream is dead; however, there's a different, more bleak aspect to that reality that far too few people have yet to realize.

Business Solutions

Set Your PC-Using Employees Up with Windows 11 Pro for $25

This updated operating system features top-of-the-line security, AI support, and more.

Living

How Adopting a 'Miracle Mentality' Can Transform Your Life

On this episode of 'The Jeff Fenster Show,' Tim Storey shares his insights on the role of mentors, the importance of humility, and the keys to achieving success.

Growing a Business

Free Webinar | July 10: How to Get Your Products Sold in Stores

Join Ross MacKay, co-founder of Daring and founder of Cadence, as he shares his expertise on successfully getting your products onto store shelves. With experience in placing products in over 40,000 stores nationwide, Ross will provide actionable insights on creating a demand-driven brand from the start.

Business Solutions

Download Images in Bulk with This $30 Lifetime Subscription

This Imaget Bulk Image Downloader enables batch image downloading with 100-percent quality retention.

Business Ideas

63 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2024

We put together a list of the best, most profitable small business ideas for entrepreneurs to pursue in 2024.