Friends w/ boss

Well, that was awkward (and maybe a bit weird?)

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Job Market - — Marco Buscaglia, Ca­reers

“Ithink there’s a se­vere lack of lead­er­ship go­ing around th­ese days,” says Terry Smith, a 48-year-old cab­i­net in­staller who doesn’t want his real last name used. “I’ve had good bosses and bad bosses but it seems like the people com­ing up the ranks th­ese days are only con­cerned about mak­ing money and get­ting ahead.”

Smith, who says he’s mak­ing a ca­reer change and get­ting into the HVAC busi­ness, re­mem­bers a time when he could joke with his boss and talk to him like he was a real per­son. “Now it’s ‘do this and do that,’” Smith says. “I know they’re bring­ing in people who are half my age and that I’m not the kind of guy they want to go have a beer with, but just be cour­te­ous. Just be friendly.”

But it’s the “friendly” part — more specif­i­cally, “friend” — that has been the sub­ject for de­bate for years. Can your boss be your friend? Should they? And what can you do if the re­la­tion­ship you want with your man­ager isn’t the re­la­tion­ship you get?

For Smith, that re­la­tion­ship was al­ways fairly sta­ble. “I was friends with guys I worked for but re­spectable, you know? Noth­ing too per­sonal. We’d talk about a lot of things but I didn’t need a shoulder to cry on, and if I did, I didn’t need it at work,” he says.

Smith says he used to joke around with his bosses as well, but he says it was al­ways about things other than each other. “Sports, celebri­ties, maybe some funny stuff go­ing on at work but it was never re­ally mean,” Smith says. “My boss last year? Wow. He’d say stuff I wouldn’t even say to my

good friends. I mean, crude stuff. I don’t want to hear that. I have three daugh­ters. And he’d act all bud­dy­buddy with me about it. I hated it.”

Funny/not funny

David Chan says for years, he didn’t take his re­la­tion­ship with his boss per­son­ally. That changed when his wife had a baby in 2016. “I was 45 and my boss used to make jokes all the time about my age — ’you’re go­ing to be on So­cial Security when your son grad­u­ates from high school,’ ‘It’ll be nice to have some­one to push you in your wheel­chair at lit­tle league games’ — it was stupid, sopho­moric stuff but it didn’t be­long at work. When friends made sim­i­lar jokes, which they did, I didn’t take of­fense. But my boss in front of my co-work­ers? That’s dif­fer­ent,” says Chan, an in-house sales rep­re­sen­ta­tive for a phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal firm in Hous­ton. “I mean it’s ageism, right? Es­pe­cially in front of my younger co-work­ers? Just not cool.”

Still, Chan said he kept his head down and smiled along. But af­ter telling his wife about his situation at work, he clar­i­fied his re­ac­tion. “It wasn’t a Yoko thing. She didn’t make me get mad about it — I was al­ready mad,” Chan says. “But when I saw how hurt she was — I mean, she was 43 at the time so he could have been mak­ing the same jokes about her — it got to me. Did I want to go into my life story? Tell him that I was mar­ried at 18 and di­vorced at 21? That I fi­nally fell in love in my 40s and wanted to marry that per­son and have a fam­ily? That’s none of his busi­ness.”

Af­ter think­ing it over for a few days — and hear­ing more “old-dad” jokes, Chan com­plained to the com­pany’s hu­man re­source de­part­ment, which set up a meet­ing with an HR rep, Chan and Chan’s man­ager.

When pre­sented with the situation, Chan says his boss acted of­fended over the fact Chan even brought it up. “He was say­ing how he thought we were friends and that we’d joke about things all the time,” Chan says. “And he was right. My boss was di­vorced, was dat­ing some­one at least 20 years younger than him and he was an open tar­get. We’d joke around with him about it all the time so maybe I was be­ing a hyp­ocrite.”

HR didn’t think so. They talked to Chan’s boss, man­dated a se­ries of train­ing ses­sions — turned out Chan wasn’t the only per­son who had com­plained — and, when a po­si­tion was avail­able in a re­cently ac­quired com­pany, helped Chan move to a new po­si­tion.

“I still dealt with my old boss but it was bet­ter for both of us,” Chan says. “He apol­o­gized and I got over it. He kept com­ing back to the “I thought we were friends” thing, which I never re­ally re­solved with my­self, to be hon­est.”

Hu­mil­i­a­tion as mo­ti­va­tion

Janet Park — not her real last name — says she of­ten felt em­bar­rassed by her man­ager’s com­ments about her hair and clothes. “She’d tell me that she thought I looked like I was liv­ing in the ’90s or ask if I was all tramped up to go out af­ter work,” says Park, a leas­ing agent for an apart­mentfinder agency in Chicago. “I think she thought it was like a girls’-club thing, like we were on a week­end trip or sit­ting around watch­ing the Kar­dashi­ans on TV, but I didn’t think it was funny.”

Or con­struc­tive, which is why Park com­plained to the vice pres­i­dent of HR. “My bot­tom line was I need a boss to help me suc­ceed, some­one to help me bring in new ten­ants and some­one who can help me get to the next level,” Park says. “Her telling me that I looked like some­one out of “Mel­rose Place” wasn’t cool. It didn’t make me a bet­ter rep.”

Park’s HR de­part­ment dealt with the situation in broad strokes. “They sent out memos about ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior and dis­cus­sion top­ics at work, they clar­i­fied the man­ager-em­ployee re­la­tion­ship, they sent out a list of words or terms that shouldn’t be used around the of­fice,” Park says. “And none of it worked. It was so gen­eral that it meant noth­ing.”

Make friends with your boss and the next thing you know they’re part of your so­cial me­dia life — do you re­ally want that?

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