Guidelines for manager's socializing with employees

Dear Joan:
I was recently promoted to a manager position, overseeing a large group of highly individual employees, who all do their own project work. When I was one of them, I remember looking at management with scorn. They always seemed so aloof and above everyone else. Needless to say, I’m trying not to make some of the same mistakes.

Which brings me to my question. The company is having a recognition dinner for employees and I am planning to attend. When I received an award a few years ago, my boss didn’t even show up and it offended me.

Some of my fellow managers aren’t planning on going and have said they don’t plan on going to the company picnic or other social events. They also never go out with their employees for a social drink after work. In my opinion, my employees rarely get a chance to come together as a group, so anything I can do to create more team feeling seems like a good idea.

Do you think I am "too close" to my employees by doing these things? Some of my peers have suggested that I need to make sure there is enough "distance" between me and my employees, so I can stay objective. They feel that getting too chummy just leads to problems. What do you think?

I know two women who are close to their teenage children. They both take an active role in attending school events and they spend social time with their children. The difference is that the teenagers in one family are respectful and responsible, while the other family’s kids lip off to their mom and regularly get away with murder. So, what’s the key difference, you ask? The first woman’s children know where the line is and they are held accountable when they cross it. In the second case, the mom is trying to be her children’s friend, instead of a parent.

It’s no different at work. The "distance" your fellow managers are talking about is that invisible line that employees know they shouldn’t cross. Now that you are the manager, you have the responsibility of drawing the line and counseling any employee who crosses it. For instance, an employee who isn’t doing his share of the work, or an employee who comes in late twice a week, or an employee who is rude to a customer have all crossed the line, as far as I’m concerned. You need to set your own expectations with your employees and make sure they understand them.

As long as you don’t let your social interaction interfere with your ability to hold each employee accountable for results, you should have no problem socializing with them. It’s only when a manager tries too hard to be buddies, problems erupt. For example, consider the sales manager who parties with her male employees and goes into intimate details about her sex life. Another example is the manager who had to be driven home after drinking too much and the next day he heard about all the negative, angry things he said about his own boss in front of his employees. You don’t want to go there.

I think you have the right attitude about going to company functions. In fact, once you are in a management position, you need to view these functions as an extension of work. If you don't show up for a recognition dinner or go the company picnic you are telling senior management and your employees that they aren’t important to you. The reason companies sponsor such events is to bring employees together and create more of a caring, family atmosphere.

And since, your presence is expected and it is an extension of work, I’d suggest you follow some unwritten rules of conduct:

  • Limit your alcohol intake. Even a few drinks may cause you to say or do something you regret.
  • Work the crowd. Make sure you roam around and talk to many people from all levels, instead of sticking with your own group of friends.
  • Make introductions. Introduce your employees to people they would otherwise never meet and guide the conversation so they get to know each other and learn about their talents and interests.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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