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Just how close should you be with your boss?

Work colleagues give high five at the office. [Getty Images]

A joke is told of a university lecturer who, towards the end of the semester, administered an exam to his class.

A student the lecturer had never seen walked into the room and the two, tutor and pupil, regarded each other with shock for long moments.

The student, a notorious truant, had never seen the lecturer. The lecturer was also seeing his student for the first time.

The rest of the students knew that this student, by virtue of being a stranger to the lecturer, was going to have it rough during the assessment. Teachers are wont to be more comfortable and happy reading through scripts written by students known to them.

A rapport between a teacher and a student already favours the latter and could be the fine margin between which student performs well and which one does not.

This is a principle worth emulating in workplaces. It does not help to keep the employer at an arm’s length, deliberately creating an unbreachable buffer and minimising communication between boss and employee.

It behoves every employee to create a rapport with their boss(es) for beyond the worker toiling to give the company a lucrative bottom line is a human being who will, every now and then, be beholden to their emotional needs.

While there is no template on how employees should relate with their bosses, a good, healthy working relationship is crucial for the success of the employee, the employer and the company.

Monicah Karanja, the head of human resources at Octagon, recently told Worklife that employees could be working extra hard because a rise up the ladder, or a company growing bigger and making more money, is likely to promise bigger, better salaries.

It is motivation to grow their skills and better themselves as professionals, however, that produces the best results, she said.

“Performance of an employee can be (determined by if) someone (is) working for salary or working for career growth. When someone is working for career development, they will perform better at work because they have self-motivation,” she said.

The fear of failing a boss one is a friend with, and of hurtling down a pedestal the boss had placed them on, is often enough motivation for employees to work even harder by the day. This could be necessary fear of failure, and it could improve the employee’s skills and make them more efficient.

There is also a fear of contributing to a company’s downfall by being lackadaisical. An employee who is close to the employer, or the boss in whatever capacity, is pretty much part of a family that makes the company run. As a crucial cog, they know that their laxity could kill the company, and by so doing eliminate the very platform that such an employee interacts with family.

But there is a fear that closeness with a boss could contribute to an employee being misused, that is, getting asked to perform tasks not aligned with their job description.

It could also lead to a boss being lenient on an employee to an extent where such a boss overlooks the employee’s glaring flaws. This could be detrimental to both the well-being of the employee and of the company.

An article by the Harvard Business Review (HBR) warns that the relationship between a boss and an employee might shroud the former’s judgment.

“Being the boss means you have to accept that not everyone will like you, and that’s okay. At the end of the day, the brutal truth is you’re required to make the tough decisions. That’s why you’re the boss. It’s important for you to recognise that if you’re friends with an employee, you may be blinded to their flaws, or you may not be able to place personal feelings aside so easily when you need to. This is why you have to be extra cautious about not letting your friendships influence your decisions, including raises, assignments, and layoffs,” says the article. 

HBR says that bosses should not let their rapport influence their discussions outside work where, on social media platforms, for example, they are tempted to discuss work-related matters. In a study, HBR found that when people were promoted to managerial levels, they reduced interactions with their peers on social media.  

“We don’t recommend befriending or following coworkers on social media, regardless of the platform. Your friends may use it to flaunt their bond with you making their colleagues (your direct reports) jealous,” reads the article.

“For this reason, 10 per cent of our respondents unfollowed and unfriended colleagues (and friends) after they were promoted. Many told us that doing so helped instil clearer boundaries between them and reduce the likelihood of oversharing. Others did not, choosing instead to tighten their privacy settings, allowing them to maintain a personal network that exists in isolation from their work network.”

Whichever strategy one chooses to adopt, HBR says, the research suggests “that outside of work, never share any information with your work friends that wouldn’t be shared inside an office. In doing so, you could damage credibility”.

Simply put, a rapport between a boss and an employee is important but should be measured so it is healthy and beneficial to the employee, employer and company.