Boss-Employee Friendships

HR & Safety

Supervisors will be happy to know that nearly three-fourths (74%) of their employees consider their relationship with their boss to be excellent or good. However, for many employees, that relationship ideally takes nights, weekends, and holidays off.
According to national staffing company Spherion’s “WorkSphere” survey, American workers who have a boss are split on whether they consider him or her a friend—49% say yes, while 51% say no.
The survey was conducted online by Harris Poll in October among more than 2,019 U.S. adults, including 939 who are employed full/part-time and have a boss.
And, while 82% of employees who have a boss report socializing with him or her during work hours or at work-related events, they are not on a bestie-basis just yet. In fact, fewer than half of these workers (46%) ever hang out with their boss outside of the office, and 41% consider their relationship exclusively professional.
Despite not desiring a closer friendship with their boss, employees do see possible upsides from maintaining a more personal relationship.
Three in five workers (60%) believe to a great or fair amount that employees who are friends with their boss receive special treatment in the workplace compared to those who choose to keep greater distance.
In particular, employees believe that bosses offer close colleagues a range of benefits, including more frequent personal interaction or attention (56%) and schedule flexibility (52%), among others, than they offer their coworkers.
“Top-down friendships really come down to balance,” said Sandy Mazur, Spherion Division President.
“Given the focus on engagement and retention in the workplace, bosses should help establish a middle ground where employees feel they can approach them to discuss both personal and workplace matters, but where there also are clear boundaries so that time spent at work is devoted primarily to professional conversations and tasks.”
While most employees with a boss say they have an excellent or good relationship, men are more likely than women to consider their boss a friend (53% and 45%, respectively).
In addition, although men (83%) and women (81%) almost are equally likely to socialize with their boss during work hours, men are more likely to continue this socialization outside the office (50% versus 43%, respectively).
The WorkSphere survey found several other noteworthy trends highlighting how employees balance professional and personal interaction with their boss, including:
Social Media Connections

  • Among all employees with a boss, nearly one in five (18%) are connected with him or her on their personal social media channels; this total nearly doubles (31%) for employees who report being friends with their boss.
  • Younger workers are more likely to connect with their boss on social media than older workers; nearly twice as many workers ages 18-44 (23%) engage with their bosses in this manner than workers ages 45-54 (12%).

Trust and Transparency

  • Eighty percent of employees feel comfortable being honest with their boss about critical workplace issues.
  • A similar percentage of workers (79%) feel their boss is fully honest with them on the same subjects.

The Age Factor

  • Workers between the ages of 18 and 34 (55%) are more likely than those who are 35-44 (45%) or 45-54 (41%) to consider their boss a friend.
  • Nearly one in five (18%) men between the ages of 18 and 34 describe their relationship with their boss as equally professional and personal, compared with 12% of women in this age group.
  • More than half (52%) of 18-34 year olds report ever socializing with their boss outside of work, compared to 43% of those who are between 45 and 54.

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