Friends w/ boss
Well, that was awkward (and maybe a bit weird?)
“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.”
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?