One thing I have learnt with absolute certainty, from years of working in shops and bars, is that you can only be friends with the boss when you are the boss.
There’s nothing wrong with being friendly, or at least civil, with your manager, but issues come to light, serious problems and perhaps even sackings, when you try to maintain a friendship with someone who has authority over your paycheck.
The first problem is obvious: if your manager has an issue with some part of how you do your job, they’re going to find it very difficult to tell you without risking the friendship. If your timekeeping is less than impressive, if your telephone voice could use some polish, if you’ve told a customer to kiss your arse, a boss you can have dinner with will struggle to find the words.
For the sake of clarity, let’s suggest that the boss has a word about your professionalism: how exactly are they to expect a lick of work from a staff member who is now in a huff, having been apparently let down by a friend?
The second problem is this: if you can have a drink with your boss, how can they possibly maintain their authority?
When you’ve seen someone dancing, and trying it on with somebody’s mum, you can’t really take them seriously anymore.
Having been burnt a couple of times, I have made it an inherent aspect of my work ethic that I don’t socialise with my boss. I smile, I tell jokes, I listen, but I don’t need to be part of their lives.
So what happens if you do become friends? Frankly, I’d be tempted to resign.
If you’re a boss, and you come to suspect that one of your members of staff is up to no good, the most important thing you can do is talk to them. If the issue is clouded by a friendship, maybe it will seem like a conversation is a step too far, but then how are you to determine whether or not your fears are well-placed? You can’t just sack somebody, they have to have a couple of warnings, and if talking to them is complicated, firing them won’t be any easier.
The worst thing you can do is talk to people around them. If respect is not enough to deter you, these are the people who are absolutely certain to tell the individual what you have been saying about them behind their back, and I don’t suppose that would be an entirely enticing prospect.
If words are had, inappropriately, out of context and with the wrong person, an insidious atmosphere of mistrust will infiltrate the workplace.
Members of staff will start to question whether voice recording equipment has been installed in case anyone says anything about anybody – the management, other members of staff, the Queen. They will start dreading those days when they have to work with management. Your jokes will become laboured because you have created a world of uphill.
Those you suspect and those you confront will rapidly leave the workplace, and with good reason: it will have become a hostile working environment. And you’ll struggle to replace them because people talk.
In short, whether management or worker, your words are important. Use them wisely or shut the hell up.
When I was twenty-six, my mother died. She was my surviving parent and I went to pieces. Some of you will have been through something like this, so you know what I’m talking about and I don’t need to explain much further.
But I will anyway.
Here’s what happened. I went on compassionate leave for thirteen days. When I returned to work, I was still walking around as if I had no skin, but I could just about manage to scan things at the till point. My boss cried in my face. I thought there was an understanding there.
Some months later, a customer who didn’t much care for my boss made some sort of comment about her weight.
Unnecessary, hurtful and nothing whatever to do with her qualifications to run the shop. I dealt with his query, located his dry-cleaning and suggested that, whatever a person’s BMI, it made no difference to what sort of person they were.
And then I was told. Only because I had spent part of my morning defending her, two members of staff approached and told me that my boss had complained, to several people, during my compassionate leave that I was “milking it”. In fact, she had said this to two further members of staff and a customer.
Not knowing what to do, I did nothing.
My boss, realising she had burnt at least one bridge, stopped considering the consequences of her words and decided to put me to work straight away at the other side of the shop, so she wouldn’t have to look at me. I was to build a display stand for the Mother’s Day cards. I don’t think she had considered how unfortunate her choice of activity for me was. It’s not that I don’t believe she had that capacity for unkindness. I just don’t think she was clever enough to think it through.
So, there you have it: I can be polite. Really, I can. I can even be downright charming, but I don’t make friends with my boss.