Employee or friend? Leading close-knit communities in the workplace

Employee or friend? Leading close-knit communities in the workplace

Molli Boyd

If you’re a contact center leader, you know the best teams are close-knit communities. In fact, you could even say they’re like family because they motivate each other, help one another, and celebrate each other’s successes.

Having a caring leader is important to this kind of team. It makes your employees feel more connected and engaged, and they trust you more. Nevertheless, as their leader, you’re not just one of the team: you’re the person in charge. You assign duties, assess performance, and determine who gets promoted. You’re also the person who sometimes has to make difficult decisions and deliver messages your team might not want to hear. That’s why it’s essential to avoid blurring the lines without becoming too distant or unapproachable.

Consequences of blurring the line between “leader” and “friend”

When the line between “leader” and “friend” becomes blurred, problems can start to arise. New team members or employees who aren’t as close might feel that other agents receive favoritism, which can lead to significant tensions in the workplace.

As a leader, you’re also susceptible to the “TMI syndrome.” For example, employees who are struggling or need time off due to personal issues often feel obligated to give a detailed account of their problems. This can make both them and you feel uncomfortable.

Social media (except LinkedIn) comes with its own pitfalls. “Friending” employees on Facebook can expose you to information about them that falls outside of the realm of professional relationships. At the same time, it gives your employees access to details of your private life that you might prefer to keep to yourself. Moreover, when employees send you friend requests and you don’t accept, they might feel snubbed.

Especially when you have a large team, invitations to birthday parties, baby showers, weddings, graduation open houses, and other celebrations can become a drain on your personal time—and if you go to one party, you have to go to all of them.

Establishing boundaries the right way

To prevent these types of problems, you need to consciously establish and maintain boundaries. Avoid favoritism by monitoring your own behavior and giving all your employees equal time and attention. If a team member feels that another person is receiving preferential treatment, explain the reasoning behind your actions and if necessary, discuss what the team member needs to do to qualify for the same type of opportunity.

If an employee is struggling and needs help or time off, handle the situation with discretion. Some people feel better by sharing what’s going on in their lives, but others prefer to keep their problems to themselves. In these types of instances, explain up front that there’s no obligation to provide you with a detailed account of the issue and that your primary objective is to support the employee so he or she can return to full productivity as soon as possible.

When it comes to social media, you’re best advised to restrict interaction with employees to LinkedIn. This allows you to share your professional activities with your team while keeping your private life private.

Finally, allow all employees to take part in each other’s celebrations by organizing parties at work. It’s a good way to show your appreciation, plus, it’s a bonding experience for the entire team—and you don’t have to sacrifice your evenings and weekends.

Clear, consistent boundaries are good for you and your team

Boundaries that are clear don’t make you inaccessible. On the contrary, they allow you to be a consistent, approachable leader who can show compassionate concern for your team members when they need you. And when your professional focus is on each person’s engagement, well-being, and productivity at work, your team will be motivated by your leadership instead of getting distracted by the nuances of workplace friendships.