Is it possible to work for a friendly boss? Managers who demonstrate care for employees have more engaged staffs, according to multiple research studies. And employees who have friendly relationships with their managers enjoy their work more, and get more done.

We want and need managers who care about our lives beyond the workplace. Gallup has asked more than eight million people to respond to the statement “My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person” and has found that people who agree with this statement:

  • Are more likely to stay with the organization
  • Have more engaged customers
  • Are more productive

But one study out of Princeton shows our relationship with the boss isn’t good. Researchers asked working adults to list “the people we enjoy being with.”

  • Clients and customers were third from the bottom
  • Coworkers were second to last
  • Bosses were dead last

Interacting with the boss was also rated, on average, as being less enjoyable than cleaning the house!

Clearly, most of us don’t have a friendly boss. It’s no wonder that bosses hesitate to get too close to their people. Conventional wisdom tells managers to maintain professional distance and to prevent personal ties from clouding their judgment.

Employees risk accusations of “brownnosing” when going beyond the standard working relationship with their manager. Cozy friendships between co-workers fly in the face of what we’ve been taught about the workplace.

And yet, we spend 50 percent more time with our customers, coworkers and bosses than we do with our friends, significant others, children and other relatives combined. To be sure, finding a few strong friendships at the office will help anyone be more engaged and productive.

Sadly, many managers and their organizations frown upon getting to know employees on a personal level. Nearly one-third of some 80,000 managers and leaders Gallup interviewed agreed with the following statement:

“Familiarity breeds contempt.”

Perhaps we need to look at work relationships more intelligently. Is it possible to manage someone and care for them, and still set appropriate boundaries and expectations for performance? Of course, but therein lies the problem.

Managers have a hard time finding the right balance. Some employees want closer supervision than others. But how are you going to discern how to bring out the best in someone, if you don’t get close enough to know what works best?

Author and Global Practice Leader Tom Rath makes a good case for understanding human relationships at work in his book Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without

As a boss, is it possible to show you care and still have expectations? Yes, it’s just that we have to pay attention to our language, our humor, and our boundaries if we want that relationship to function. It’s not easy.

I suggest the manager-employee relationship is a special kind of friendship we need to practice and become better at. The longer we leaders and managers practice, the better we get at finding the right balance.

What do you think? Are you “friends” with your boss? In what ways are you, and in what ways are you not? I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment or contact me here.