Setting Managerial Relationship Boundaries

Is it okay to be friends with your employees? That’s a particularly sticky question for small business owners. You have a small team and you work shoulder to shoulder with them every day. You want to be approachable but recognize that you have very different roles. That’s why it’s important for small business owners to create and stick to clear relationship boundaries.

Why It’s Important

As an owner, you have different responsibilities from your employees. You are chief marketer, financial officer, strategist as well as “the boss.” That means you have to make decisions based on what’s best for your business. And that doesn’t always match up with what’s best for a staff member.

For example, say you’re launching a new product and need additional staff for the big opening. Do you give current employees more hours? If so, which employees will get the opportunity to earn more? Or do you just hire temporary staff?

The answer should depend on your business needs. But that gets complicated when personal relationships blur the boundary. Employees might think your decision is influenced by favoritism.

That same charge of partiality can influence hiring decisions, performance feedback and disciplinary action too. By nature, friends are seen as equals. That’s a difficult position to be in when you’re trying to perform these roles.

Tips on Setting Boundaries

Finding the right relationship balance with your employees often develops over time. Here are some suggestions to consider:

  • Give Each Other Space – Establish guidelines for yourself about mixing work with social time. For example, it might be fine to have team lunches with your staff occasionally. But you might want to avoid after-work outings.
  • Avoid Likes and Tweets – Think twice about friending employees on their Facebook page or following them on Twitter. It’s easy to overshare on social media. Comments can be misinterpreted and the resulting conflict can spill over into the workplace.
  • Establish Code of Conduct – Consider developing formal code of conduct guidelines, perhaps as part of your employee handbook. This sample code for small and medium-sized companies can help you identify what needs to be included. Having these policies sets expectations in advance and may prevent problems later.
  • Mind your Image – Set a professional tone. For some managers it might be the clothes they wear. For others, it might be the words they use to speak to employees. Some managers have a five-minute huddle at the beginning of each day to establish priorities and answer questions.

Behind every successful small business is a successful team. That requires managers and employees who know how to work together—and when to give each other space. That’s why it’s important for small business owners to create and stick to clear relationship boundaries.