An astute reader brought up an issue near and dear to my heart last week – the issue of workplace relationships and their economic consequences. At hand is the concept that many (particularly women) find themselves unprepared to scale. I confess that I recognize this reader as a former big wig at a Fortune 100 company. He made an excellent point:
>> If a boss asks an emplyee to after hours cocktail, it may be to get to know the employee better, not make a romantic advance. That socialization process allows the boss to determine the value of grooming that employee for positions of greater responsibility.<<
Yes, totally agree. However as mentioned in Workplace Relationships, the employee needs to be clear on the boss’ intentions and the potential fall out at the office. The cost / benefit analysis of how friendly an employee can be with a boss can be very confusing.
On the plus side, if you are cozy with the boss, presumably that will lead to faster promotions. At the very least, you are more likely to know about internal company issues that you can jump into to save the day thus motoring your career along. You may be given first crack at a super challenging project or kept off the layoff list. But perhaps the biggest benefit is the informal mentoring. This depends on your ability to successfully keep the informal relationship strong. It depends on you being impressive to the boss and the boss being impressive to his/her boss….
Now weigh that against the cost of being excluded from informal grooming occuring at your peer level and the other heirarchy within the company. What if your boss is actually on the way out . . . boss leaves and the pet isn’t far behind. What if you fail to make the awesome impression on your boss? Maybe he likes whiskey and you don’t drink. The bad social impression can be a double whammy.
While we may all be *mature* adults, and not prone to critically judging others by our social standards, it has happened at least once. . . .
What if you are a woman and your boss learns that you really want to have children in the next 2 years? There’s a super tough assignment requiring travel around the world and 24/7 “balls-to-the-wall” attention – does your boss give it to you, or not? The social mixing puts your boss in a tough spot too.
It is very much the case that the blurred social/professional line can penalize you more than it is worth. There is no good answer about what professional-social interaction is best. It is a judgment call in each situation. After some burns, I decided to keep my pofessional life purely professional with no social interaction. That worked very well.
Now that I own the company, I mix with other company owners. No, I do not mix with my employees. Indeed, I rarely now mix with other employees, period. It is too easy to get sidetracked. I have to keep the best interest of the business at the forefront of my mind. I take very good care of my people, but I can’t do that if I get chummy with 2-3 in one department and that department stops performing. For all of us to thrive, I have to remain socially independent – I am too prone to taking care of everyone like family. It is a time consuming, thankless task with little reward other than universal karma. Too much of that at the wrong time and we all go under.