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Lead Your Team Managing

Boss and Employee Relationships: How Close Is Too Close?

Create a Balanced Relationship With Your Employees
Credit: Monkey Business Images/Shuttestock

It's a dream to have a good relationship with your boss. You'll have someone to go to with struggles, triumphs and issues with co-workers or workload. If you've ever had a bad relationship with a boss, you know just how crucial and beneficial a good relationship is. But where do you draw the line? How does a boss know if they're being too open and friendly? How does an employee know if they're taking advantage of the good relationship with the boss? We've got the answers.

It behooves employees to have a good relationship with their boss, but there are some things that take the relationship too far.

"It's hard to prescribe boundaries that fit everyone – there's a lot to learn about context that's important," said Jeffery Doolittle, associate dean of the Institute of Global Leadership and Entrepreneurship at Olivet Nazarene University. "We think age, gender, history of the relationship and nature of the work are all factors to consider when drawing a line for what's appropriate.

Doolittle said most things can be appropriate, as long as the context is professional and respectful of boss-employee dynamics.

"Romantic relationships are the most obvious no-no to avoid with anyone who manages you or who has the ability to affect the terms and conditions of your employment, such as pay raises, promotions and access to advancement opportunities," said Amanda Augustine, career advice expert at TopResume.

Being a boss comes with more responsibility and an increased expectation of professionalism and decorum. Because of that, there is less room for error when it comes to relationships with employees.

"While there are plenty of exceptions given context and personality, as an example, … following and engaging younger employees on social media can be inappropriate, as well as calling/texting about things unrelated to work," Doolittle said. "It's fine to be friendly, but not at the expense of being professional."

Managers and supervisors are often discouraged from taking part in close personal relationships with any employee who reports to them, according to Augustine.

"It may be perceived as favoritism or misuse of authority, and expose vulnerability for sexual harassment claims in the future," Augustine told Business News Daily.

The biggest takeaway from boss/employee relationships is that as long as it remains professional and respectful on both sides, there is no wrongdoing. But there will be cases where one side feels the relationship is imbalanced and the other party may not feel the same.

"In both cases, clear communication with each other, and with other colleagues, will win the day," Doolittle said. "Set expectations with each other, apologize for any missteps, make HR professionals aware of the situation and reassure colleagues that your intention is to have a professional, appropriate relationship with your boss or employee."

Beyond the most obvious inappropriate relationships between employees and bosses, Augustine said, the definition of "inappropriate" becomes a gray area, especially when it's about friendships rather than romantic relationships.

"If you're unsure what is considered acceptable and what will result in a 'discussion' with HR, consider the company culture that's been established, the size of the organization and the relationships between the executive leaders," Augustine said. "Also, take a look at the employee handbook and see if there are any policies in place that define what is considered inappropriate behavior."

Augustine also advised new employees to speak to people who have been there for a while and may know where there is leniency with policies and where there isn't.

"Observe how other managers and employees interact with one another – both in and out of the office – to determine if your behaviors are similar or considered unusual for that organization," Augustine concluded.

Jennifer Post

Jennifer Post graduated from Rowan University in 2012 with a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism. Having worked in the food industry, print and online journalism, and marketing, she is now a freelance contributor for Business News Daily and Business.com. When she's not working, you will find her exploring her current town of Cape May, NJ or binge watching Pretty Little Liars for the 700th time.