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The Relationship Line You Can't Cross When You're Someone's Manager


As people spend more time at the office, it is only natural to make friends or even to make a romantic connection with co-workers. However, managers can find themselves in a difficult situation because there are some relationship lines a manager just cannot cross.

Traditionally, managers were thought as above the staff, they didn't get involved with any sort of personal matters or even try to connect. They were meant to supervise as managers and employees were to do as they were instructed. There really wasn't much of a manager-employee relationship.


Today, acting like a superior is not the preferred method of manager-employee interaction. It doesn't make as much sense in the modern workplace because it alienates people, which could possibly affect productivity. An attitude of superiority from a manager doesn't make the workplace a positive environment for anyone, including the manager.

It's okay to be friends with an employee if you are a manager as long as favoritism is avoided. Favoritism is definitely a line that can't be crossed in management. It's easy to prefer some workers - a manager may like the way an employee does his/her work or a manager may just like the employee on a personal level because of similar interests. While preference is unavoidable, it shouldn't be obvious to employees. Managers must be very careful to avoid favoritism because it can create bad feelings in the staff, which can affect productivity and the other employees' trust in the manager.

So how can a manager tell if he/she is demonstrating favoritism? One way to do this is to first list favorite employees and rank them solely based on general preference. Next, rank who on staff does the best work consistently. Finally, consider which employee gets the most credit and reward for his/her work.

Compare the rankings. Do the people who the manager prefers also doing the best work and contributing the most? Is the level of praise consistent with the work that employee is doing? If there are discrepancies between the rankings, the manger must consider if he/she is demonstrating favoritism at the office. If so, the manager must stop immediately and focus on rewarding the right people and working with those who may not be up to standards. Otherwise, the manager may jeopardize his/her relationship with the entire team.

When the mention of lines that cannot be crossed as manager is made, one immediately thinks of romantic relationships. Romantic relationships in business are hard between co-workers, but they are particularly difficult between a manager and employee.

Before pursuing any sort of romantic relationship, a manager must review the company's policy on such a relationship. Some companies have strict policy regarding such relationships because of the high risk of legal problems, such as sexual harassment and discrimination suits. Some estimates say that half of sexual harassment lawsuits stemmed from relationships that were consensual.

The most difficult kind of manager-employee relationship is that of a manager with an employee who is directly under his/her supervision. These sorts of relationships should be avoided at all costs because of the repercussions that may arise. For example, if the employee in such a relationship gets promoted, others on the staff will see it as a matter of favoritism. On the other hand, if the employee gets fired, the possibility of lawsuit is potentially high. Because of the conflict of interest that can arise, a direct manager-employee relationship can be line that shouldn't be crossed.

Finally, the relationship line that absolutely cannot be crossed is when a relationship, whether friendly or romantic, is unwelcome. While this may seem obvious, it can be a problem.

Often, in an attempt to be a friend to an employee by asking about friends, family, after-work plans, etc., a manager can seem insincere or intrusive, which can be off-putting to the employee. In some cases, employees are not seeking any sort of relationship with his/her manager -they clock in each day, work their eight hours, and clock out. They are not there to socialize or make friends. Some employees may not feel comfortable in certain social situations. As a result, managers must respect the unique, personal boundaries of employees they supervise.

Managers must also be sensitive when dealing with members of the opposite sex. While it's okay to be friends with a member of the opposite sex, managers must be careful in what they say. A joke, a comment about appearance, or unwanted contact could be grounds for a lawsuit.

Having friendships, and sometimes relationships, in the office can be done, but not at the cost of productivity and trust. Once a manager recognizes the lines that can and cannot be crossed, he/she can engage the staff in a positive way and create a comfortable environment for all involved.

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