Is It a Bad Idea to Be Friends With Your Employees?

Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash

One of the best perks of being a business owner is having complete control over who you hire and who you work with on a daily basis. You can select people who are genuinely talented and who you get along with, to create the ideal, most productive, and most comfortable environment for your own daily responsibilities.

But there’s a catch. As a boss and as a leader, you aren’t going to be on the same hierarchical level as the people you hire. If you like them personally, and get along with them, you might be tempted to become friends with them — but is this a good idea? Or are workplace friendships as an entrepreneur destined for failure?

The Benefits of Workplace Friendships

There are some significant benefits that come with having genuine friendships in the workplace:

· Employee retention. Studies consistently show that having friends in the workplace drives higher employee retention. One survey found that 30 percent of US workers felt they had a “best friend” in the workplace, and 75 percent of them planned to stay with the company for at least another year, with more than half feeling passionately close to the brand they worked for. If you strike up more friendships with your employees, you may be able to reap this benefit.

· Stress relief. Close relationships with coworkers also have a profound effect on stress levels. When you’re around people you know and get along with, you’ll feel more comfortable expressing your feelings, and you won’t feel as much pressure or isolation when things go wrong.

· Honesty. If your employees feel like they’re your friends, rather than your subordinates, they may be more likely to share criticisms and feedback with you. Otherwise, they may withhold reservations or objections they have in an effort to stay in their place.

The Entrepreneurial Complication

Of course, these benefits are perhaps best realized between coworkers at the same level. If you try to make friends with your employees, you’ll likely experience the following dilemmas:

· Favoritism. Even if you’re friends with some of your employees, you probably won’t be friends will all your employees. That’s immediately going to make people suspicious of favoritism. Did you award that employee a raise because they were your friend or because they earned it? Did you reprimand a different coworker because they screwed up, or because they aren’t that close to you personally?

· Emotional crossover. Startups are high-stress environments, and that’s going to lead to some emotional crossover. A rough day at the office could lead to a personal argument that permanently damages your friendship. A personal disagreement outside of office hours could compromise how you and your employee work together the next day. There are too many opportunities for harm here to avoid.

· Hard decisions. Eventually, you’ll have to make some hard decisions that could affect both your personal and professional relationship. What if you find out your friend has been stealing from the company? What if you need to fire some of your employees, and the one you feel closest to is the most logical decision? How will you handle it if your friend asks you for a raise they don’t genuinely deserve? The hard decisions here will only get harder when friendship is added as a complicating factor.

· Insubordination. A close personal friend may not feel the need to obey your every order. They may feel like they have authority of their own. When this happens, it could disrupt your organization’s productivity and damage your perceived authority as a leader.

· Sensitive personal information. Once you enter the world of entrepreneurship, you’ll probably be much more careful about what you post on social media. After all, those posts could be publicly visible, and anything embarrassing or questionable you post could come back to haunt you. That vulnerability also lies with your intimate friendships. For example, if an employee witnesses your behavior after a night of intoxication, or knows about a deep personal struggle of yours, they could use it against you in the future or see you in a different light entirely.

· Proximity. You might feel the urge to surround yourself with your favorite people, but it’s important to separate your social relationships. Being with an employee eight hours a day at work, then spending extra recreational time with them on nights and weekends could make you grow resentful of each other rather quickly — even if your relationship is a healthy one.

The Bottom Line

So is it a good idea to be friends with your employees? The straight answer is probably not.

There are some benefits to showing personal support and building true emotional bonds with your employees, but if you want to retain your authority as a leader and proactively mitigate certain complications, it’s better to separate your friendships from your work environment.

For more content like this, be sure to check out my podcast, The Entrepreneur Cast!

CEO of EmailAnalytics (, a productivity tool that visualizes team email activity, and measures email response time. Check out the free trial!

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store