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What You Need to Know About Working Relationships

By Martha Michael

Workplace Relationships

Relationships at your place of work are important, but sometimes tricky to navigate. And as shifts in employment take place, such as working remotely during the pandemic, your ability to bond with others becomes even more complicated.

Bonding With the Boss

Most people want to perform well for their superiors and consider it an added benefit when they find a measure of compatibility with them. From your point of view, it can seem like there’s no downside to developing a closeness with your boss, but it isn’t always a good idea.

An article in Psychology Today raises a few of the issues that can arise when manager-employee relationships turn to friendships.

Even when developing appropriate friendships that don’t breach official protocol, executives who get close to their employees may cause problems with productivity or morale. There are two possible effects from close relationships between a staff member and a superior.


If you used to be the teacher’s pet you know it can be a good feeling, but it can also forge a chasm between you and your peers. When someone in a managerial position treats a staff member differently than the rest, it shows. What begins as a friendship built on similar demographics or shared interests can undermine employee productiveness because the perception of favoritism causes hard feelings and jealousy. In short, it’s a good idea to avoid getting too close to a few chosen underlings if you’re the boss.

Difficulty Giving Feedback

From a managerial standpoint, bonding with specific employees can hinder a corporate leader’s ability to be honest when completing reviews. There are times when harsh criticism from superiors is a necessary component of improving output; managers may have trouble delivering this kind of feedback to individuals they have connected with and don’t want to hurt. Keeping some distance from executives in superior positions as well as the staff members who work for you will alleviate the potential for these types of issues.

Colleague-to-Colleague Bonding

There are two sides to every coin, including the pluses and minuses of developing close relationships with your workplace partners.

Greater Good Magazine, a publication from UC Berkeley, has an article discussing the advantages of close relationships between colleagues.

“People who have a best friend at work are not only more likely to be happier and healthier, they are also seven times as likely to be engaged in their job,” the article says. “What’s more, employees who report having friends at work have higher levels of productivity, retention and job satisfaction than those who don’t.”

Some places of employment substantiate the effort to create better bonding by providing recreation rooms, company sports teams,. and staff retreats. But just 12 percent of workers claim their closest ties are with people they know professionally, according to a survey by Pew and the American Life Project. Just 19 percent of respondents said they had a significant relationship with someone at work and fewer than 6 percent ever vacation with colleagues.

Regardless of the benefits of forging friendships at work, there is always the prospect of negative outcomes because conflicts arise on the job. And when the lines are blurred between professional and personal connections, sometimes the commercial concerns crush social distinctions. There is heightened competition in certain company cultures, which makes those social environments more difficult to navigate. Vulnerability is an important feature in developing closeness among friends, but not very effective when competing for sales.

Everyone has to make their own decision about engagement with associates at their jobs. It can be confusing given the research that shows there are benefits to greater bonding at work, while at the same time, there are barriers to its sustainability. Professional distance is a reliable protocol as managers need to respect production and profitability.

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