Anyone who's seen "The Office" can attest to the cringes induced by a boss who just won't stop trying to be friends with his or her employees. But you don't have to stoop to Michael Scott levels as a manager to act in ways that create an unnecessary distraction, make subordinates feel uncomfortable, or decrease efficiency. Even totally innocuous-seeming attempts at friendliness could still cross a line.
This can be especially true in modern office spaces, where a more open floorplan can often lead to social situations that did not exist in the office structures in times past.
Here are the top five guidelines bosses can use to ensure they stay on the safe side of things when managing workers in any office setting.
Treat Everyone the Same
It may seem obvious, but treating all your employees with the same level of respect and latitude may not be that easy if your best friend works for you. You may unwittingly give your buddy special treatment (i.e., a blind eye to chronic tardiness or extra time off). Or your friend may take advantage of the situation and simply give him- or herself perks that you notice but, as a friend, feel funny about mentioning or revoking. One way to nip this whole scenario in the bud is simple. Don't become pals with your employees. You're more likely to keep the playing field even that way.
Keep the Personal to a Minimum
Maybe you scored an outrageous deal on tickets to Reykjavik for New Year's or had a lousy blind date last night. Whether it's good or bad, such personal information shouldn't be fodder for waiting-your-turn-at-the-Keurig talk. Resist the urge to delve deeper than a basic overview of your weekend if asked, and don't nose into employees' lives. For example, saying you took the kids to "Ralph Breaks the Internet" on Sunday is okay, whereas asking whether a recently fuller-figured employee is pregnant is not.
Information you share could be construed as bragging (see Reykjavik example), leading to potential resentment about compensation, or it could come off as oversharing. It is best not to invite any of it in the first place.
Stay Out of Office Gossip
Maybe you've heard so-and-so in another department got a new position at a competitor and is leaving the company or that two junior-level hires had an ugly breakup and now can't be in the same room. Whatever it is, unless it has to do with your job or your employees' jobs, remain silent on gossip. You don't want some off-handed comment you may have made over lunch one day retold out of context, or worse, tweaked by an imaginative overhearer.
Maintain Your Distance in Person
Sure, go ahead and admire the sparkly engagement ring of one of your employees and congratulate her politely on her upcoming nuptials, but don't grab her hand for an up-close inspection, don't ask to try on the jewelry, and don't speculate aloud what you think it might have cost. In other words, be polite and keep a distance.
These are your employees, not your family members or friends. Asked to lunch one day by a couple of newbies? You can say yes, and even offer to pick up the tab at the sandwich shop downstairs. Heck, a good boss takes the team out to eat sometimes as a thank-you for particularly hard work. But don't make a habit of accepting such invitations (just decline politely with a vague word about deadlines or previously made plans) and definitely don't invite yourself along if you hear others talking about going out.
It's fine to be a boss and be on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media site, but make sure the material you share is for public consumption. Even then, don't friend your workers. After all, you are not friends. If an employee sends you a request on Facebook, ignore it. If they press the issue in person or with an email, tell them politely and briefly that it is your policy not to mix your work and personal accounts. The world of social media is replete with potential landmines for an employer, from both legal and social standpoints. Your safest bet is to remember that nothing you share is truly private, to use the sites with that in mind, and as an added protective measure, keep discrete personal and work accounts.
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