Leon Gettler: Can you be friends when you’re the boss?

It’s the most difficult transition for any manager. You finally got that promotion that you have been working towards and all of a sudden, you find yourself managing people who were your peers yesterday. Some of them might even be your friends. How do you get them to respect your authority? Can you still be friends?

Linda Hill and Kent Lineback at Fortune say you can’t be friends when you’re the boss. There’s a whole bunch of reasons why. First, friendship exists for itself- very different from the boss-subordinate relationship. That relationship is all about making sure the job gets done, nothing more. Also, friends are equals while bosses and subordinates are definitely not. And friends don’t check up on each other all the time, or pull each other up when one of them steps out of line.

Hill and Lineback write:  “Given its paradoxical nature, the boss–subordinate relationship is easy to get wrong. Instinct, gut feel, and natural chemistry are poor guides for the boss. They’ll push you away from people you instinctively don’t like and pull you toward those to whom you feel naturally attracted. Yet, it falls on you, as a boss, to work with and create the right relationships with both. All your relationships should be bounded and defined. They’re not about liking, chemistry, or personality. While those factors don’t disappear, and you will have to deal with them, they do not and should not define your fundamental relationship with your people.”

Leadership specialist Dan McCarthy also points out reasons why it’s not a good idea. He says it creates a perception of favouritism. Also, the relationship could influence or inform decisions on tough issues like lay-offs. Employees who are your friends might have expectations of you that are unrealistic or unprofessional, such as sharing confidential information, or always giving them advance notice, or doing special little “friendly” favours for them.

“All employees need to complain about their bosses now and then, even the best managers,’’ McCarthy says. “You’re kidding yourself if you think you’re immune from this. However, if you see your employees as friends, you’re more likely to take it personally. Friends let their hair down outside of work and sometimes do silly things with each other. Managers are supposed to set examples and be role models. So, as a ‘manager-friend’, you’re either going to be a boring, uptight friend, or an unprofessional, immature manager. You pick.”

Claire Suddath at Bloomberg says it’s not that big a deal these days and there are some places where it works. But then, not every company is like that. And besides, she admits there are certain boundaries. “The weekend, it turns out, is the most common boundary that people designate in boss-employee friendships. There’s something about a Saturday dinner that’s different from one on a Wednesday.”

In other words, the circumstances have to be right. And in the end, it’s all about managing boundaries. As some specialists advise, you need to be absolutely clear about the relationship. You don’t play favourites, you don’t go divulging confidential information and remember, if someone is underperforming, you’re their employer first and friend second.

Do you think you can be friends and still be boss? Have you ever been in that situation as a manager?



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Leon Gettler: Absenteeism, Presenteeism and Management


If you wake up in the morning, look at the grey sky, and decide it’s all too much and put in an Oscar-winning phone call to your boss and say you’re too sick to come into work, you’re not Robinson Crusoe.  Studies show lots of other people do the same thing. But that’s also telling us something about the levels of stress and lack of engagement in the workplace. By the same token, if you turn up to work when you’re crook (something that usually comes with excuses like “I feel guilty”, “There’s too much work to do” and “I save my sick time for family emergencies, like when my kids are sick”), it also tells us that there’s something wrong at work. Too much pressure and lack of engagement leave people feeling there’s more pressure on them to turn up sick. Whether it’s “absenteeism” or “presenteeism”, both are issues for managers.

As reported here,  63 per cent of Australian employees admitted to taking a sickie at some point in their lives to get the day off. While 27 per cent said throwing a sickie was a way of juggling personal responsibilities and emergencies, one in three said they did it because they felt they felt stressed and burned out.

According to the VECCI blog, this is very much a management issue. It quotes SHL’s Stephanie Christopher saying that these findings are all about anxiety and burnout. It’s about the relationship between the employee and their boss. And if nothing else, it goes to show that employee engagement is the driving force behind not only absenteeism but productivity as well.

The cost of absenteeism is more than just paying employees who don’t turn up for work. Other costs would include reduced productivity, and the impact of stress on colleagues who are forced to pick up the slack. According to HC Online, absenteeism is costing business $2 billion a year. And in the end, it all comes down to the level of engagement from managers.

Forbes reports that a global study by corporate research giant Gallup found that Australian workers are among the most dissatisfied in the world. Only 18 percent of Australian respondents said they were fully engaged in their work. And if absenteeism is linked to lack of engagement, it can only mean one thing: the absenteeism rate will continue to climb. To turn it around, we need better managers.

Presenteeism is just as big a problem. According to a study by the Influenza Specialist Group, 90 per cent of Australians have come into work sick for fear of missing deadlines or letting down their colleagues. The study found that one in five said they didn’t think the flu-like symptoms were serious enough for them to stay home.

And once more, it’s all about management. One study has found that presenteeism is more prevalent than absenteeism and that it’s related to stress, lower line management supervision and perceived pressure to attend from either managers or work colleagues with 40 per cent of employees claiming that they felt pressured by others to attend work when unwell.

So whether it’s absenteeism or presenteeism, it’s all comes down to bad management.

How would you fix the problem of absenteeism and presenteeism?


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