The idea of being a supportive employer is something that most business owners strive for. We all like to think that we’re able to offer the best possible working environment to our staff; that we’re the business owners that have happy, dedicated, and committed employees— but this may be easier said than done.

For some employers, the idea of being a supportive employer can become confused with the idea of being friends with their employees. It’s easy to see how this happens; when you try to support someone, of course you become more involved in their life. However, is being friends with you employees truly supportive? And is it even a good idea?


Walking the line

For some employees, a boss who becomes a friend is wonderful. Some may even welcome you into their home life; for example, you’ll be invited to family events and parties. Over time, your relationship with some members of staff can progress beyond employer/employee and become something resembling a friendship. You’ll be involved in one another’s lives, care about one another’s futures, know one another’s children, and want to help and see each other succeed.

There’s a reason we said “resembling a friendship”, however. There is an argument to suggest that it’s nigh-on impossible for a relationship between an employer and an employee can ever truly be a friendship. It can be a close, friendly, personal relationship, but the power dynamics are just too skewed for a true friendship to ever be possible. If you want to know more about these dynamics, then there’s a great piece on that discusses them further.

If you approach your relationship with your employees aware of the power dynamics, then there’s no reason you can’t foster a positive relationship with them— but the chances are, it will never be a true friendship.

Employees are entitled to distance from you (and that’s okay!)

For some employees, the idea of the kind of relationship as discussed above is enough to make them break out in a cold sweat. Some employees will have nothing against you personally, but they don’t want to become involved with you beyond the employer/employee distinction. That’s completely fine! The important thing is to let the employee set the boundaries.

So much of this depends on the employee’s personality. Let’s say that Employee A gets into a car accident and arrives at work shocked and upset. Employee A is more than happy to progress beyond the standard employer/employee relationship; they are more than happy to sit and cry on your shoulder (perhaps literally), be comforted, accept your help in seeing the sense in contacting today for legal assistance.

On the flip side, Employee B may also have been in a car accident. They do not want any input from you beyond an acknowledgement that they might be having a tough day. They don’t want a hug, or advice on pursuing a legal claim, or time off from work— those are things they wish to go through with their friends and family when their work day is complete.

Both Employee A and Employee B are in the right— for them. All you can do as an employer is adapt to the employees themselves; some will want a version of friendship, others most definitely won’t. Providing you always let your employees set the course, there’s no harm in being friends with your employees… but there’s also no harm in not being friends with them either. Do what is right for you, your business, and each individual employee, and you won’t go far wrong.