Can You Be Friends With Your Coworkers?

One of the main reasons people switch jobs is due to being dissatisfied with a superior. But when someone is satisfied with their superior and has a quality relationship with them, people stay at their company, even when they face challenges. Also, the overall atmosphere in the workplace can become extremely meaningful and the work culture will flourish.

Valentine's day is a holiday revolving around friendship (and love), so I thought to write about the friendships between superiors and subordinates. I have to make a disclaimer at this point, as I'm writing this from my personal perspective. In Finland, Valentine's day is not solely about romance, it celebrates friendship and all meaningful relationships between people. It's common to send cards to your friends, and it's not seen as a romantic gesture, unless you specifically make it into one. With this in mind, you might even see Valentine's day events in workplaces.

It's sad that many people believe that leaders should not be friends with their colleagues. It's also sad that some company cultures don't support people showing their emotion in the workplace. Luckily, we're already seeing this change in Finland.

Emotions are there to strengthen the whole work community

You might think that emotions can get in the way of the working life, but this is not the case in most situations at all. Emotions are a fully natural resource for us, and being aware of your feelings is another important part of leadership. A good superior is able to recognize the value of their subordinates' feelings and is also able to state their own feelings out loud. Superiors have to balance between professionalism and forming a meaningful personal relationship with their subordinates.

The best superiors are able to celebrate the success of their subordinates and support them through their struggles (both in and out of office). It takes also a well committed superior to challenge their colleagues to reach better results and – from time to time in the form of critical feedback.

Friendship won't get in the way, if you don't let it

A friend is someone that you can confide in and you commit to. The common phrase, ‘It takes two to tango', implies that friendship needs to be mutual. These elements can be found also in good management. As the relationship between a superior and subordinate transforms into a friendship, it puts a restraint on the superior's professionalism. You have to be able to tell the subordinate the harshest criticism, even if the subordinate is your friend. But why is it supposed to be harder to handle such management tasks that include you putting your friend in place than it is when talking to a mere work acquaintance that happens to be your subordinate?

Receiving such criticism could be deemed even easier if you know there are feelings of friendship behind the superior's words. Giving positive feedback more often might also be easier if you know your subordinates better.

Nowadays it's not that uncommon to have a superior who is thousands of miles away. In the worst case scenario, you never have the chance for a good heart-to-heart. The superior can still be a great leader, even if they don't see every subordinate as their personal friend or even if they're located all the way across the country. Still, I'm more than willing to say that the superior who is also their subordinate's friend, can be an excellent one, as long as they can treat every subordinate equitably and not show favoritism based on personal feelings.

Additionally, the kind of superiority that shows their vulnerable side is more likely to also get the subordinate to open up and show their strengths, weaknesses, and emotions, and the superior can then better support and nurture that person.

We have a whole spectrum of us to show (also at work)

I for one feel strongly about the fact that we come to work as 100% people and we cannot just compartmentalize our feelings and leave them at the doorstep of our offices, and later pick them up again while we clock out. A great workplace has friendships that span across titles and celebrates the vast spectrum of emotions that can be seen in the workplace.

I've had the privilege of having great work relationships, with my superiors and subordinates. The superiors from my most meaningful jobs in the past are still close friends of mine. So thank you to Anne and Kaisu, and my current boss Jussi. You've also shown me, what it means to be a good leader and friend.

About The Author

Maria Vihtkari
CHRO Chief Human Resource Officer
+358 44 525 0932
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