Maintaining Professional Relationships in the Workplace

One of the most challenging things about managing a team is establishing yourself as an authority figure while still being a likable boss that your team wants to follow.

On one hand, if you get too chummy with your reports, professionalism and productivity will plummet: Problems won’t get dealt with properly, your team won’t do their best work, and you may even lose their respect.

On the flip side, being too standoffish and terse with your team is going to garner distrust,  disengagement, and a high turnover rate. (75% of employees who leave an organization aren’t quitting their jobs so much as they’re quitting their bosses!)

So how do you navigate that intangible line between being too austere and too affable?

There are a few proven strategies that can help keep your employee relationships positive without sacrificing your professionalism as a manager:

Be Cautious With Social Media

It’s 2019 and this should be obvious, but alas some managers still make the mistake of sharing things on social media that come back to haunt them later.  

Be very cautious about adding employees to any social media platform other than linked in. If you do feel compelled to add them to Facebook, make sure you edit your privacy settings so they only see what you want them to see.

Keep in mind that even if you don’t add employees to your social media platforms, anything you post anywhere on the internet has the potential to find it’s way back to your employees. Don’t post anything on social media that you wouldn’t want to be published in a newspaper.

In other words, Facebook is not the place to vent about your employees or challenges as a manager. It could cost your job if the wrong people ever see it.

Socialize, but as a group

Keeping a certain amount of professional distance from your employees doesn’t mean you shouldn’t form positive relationships with them or avoid seeing them outside of work. After all, these are people that you’re spending 35% of your waking hours with. Some socialization and camaraderie are crucial to a healthy work culture.

Your employees are likely to like and trust you more if you join them for happy hour and get to know them a bit outside of office hours. It’s also a good way to build a team culture and even helps improve employee retention.

But avoid one on one socialization and stick to group functions only. If you do go out for happy hour or an event with alcohol, stick to one drink for the duration. It’s also a good idea to bow out early, which sets a good example to your employees; you don’t want them showing up late for work the next day with the excuse they were out too late.

Will you have less fun than your employees? Maybe. But saying or doing something distasteful in front of the people who are supposed to respect and answer to you is even less fun.

Get to Know Employees But Don’t Overshare

It’s okay to talk about your life and make friendly conversation, and when they ask you can tell them about your family or hobbies outside of work.

Just remember that you’re talking to an employee and not a confidant. Don’t overshare about your personal problems, gossip, or complain. If your employee starts to overshare in any way then change the topic.

Don’t forget to ask about your employees’ lives too! Everyone loves to talk about themselves and your employees are no different. And considering that 23% of employees feel their managers don’t ask enough about their lives outside of work, it’s wise to take an interest.

Even if you aren’t playing favourites, your employees’ perception is their reality.

Be Aware of Employee Perceptions

Your employees are paying attention to everything. Make sure you’re not spending too much time with one team member or group. Make a conscious effort to take an equal interest in everyone.

For example, if you keep going out for lunch with the same employee several times a month, the others will sense favouritism. Even if you aren’t playing favourites, your employees’ perception is their reality.

Be very careful about how you go about offering preferential tasks or projects and to whom. In other words, you should be stepping into your employees’ shoes before taking any action involving your employees. Be objective about how they will perceive it.

Set the Example

If you’re not consistently demonstrating where the “line” is between you and your employees, they aren’t going to be either. Show the same professionalism and integrity as you expect from your employees and you are more likely to have those expectations met.

Even things that seem super basic and minor, such as time-keeping and doing what you say you will do will go a long way to setting the office’s professional vibe.

Nip Overstepping in the Bud

One of the biggest problems with being a naturally friendly manager is that some employees will take this to mean they can walk all over you. (It’s sad but true.) You need to be prepared to lay down the law as soon as your a report crosses the line.

This isn’t to say you need to adopt an icy demeanour that would rival The Devil Wear’s Prada’s Miranda. But you need to firmly explain to them where the boundaries are and get their acknowledgement that they understand them.


Being a manager is a little like having children. You can be friends with your kids, but at the end of the day you need to be a parent first or you’re doing them a disservice by not giving them the boundaries they need to grow and thrive.

Similarly, you can develop positive relationships and have fun with your staff, but you are first and foremost their manager. Although prioritizing your role can seem impersonal, it’s for the good of all parties involved: the company, the employees, and of course, you!

Follow these strategies to maintaining professional relationships and your office will be a fundamentally more happy and productive place.