The Do’s and Don’ts of Schmoozing with Staff

You schmooze, you lose? Not quite: there are, in fact, some good reasons for managers to socialize with their staff. But there are also some important lines not to cross.

As a manager, being nasty to your employees is a surefire way to poison staff morale and reduce company innovation. If your staff like you and feel that they are being valued, they will, in turn, be more invested in the company’s reputation and output. It pays to be nice to your employees (not to mention it’s the right thing to do).

That said, there’s a fine line between establishing civil, mutually respectful relationships with your workers and getting too cozy with the people you pay. Some bosses fall into the trap of trying to become best friends with their staff – a move that causes confusion and inefficiency among a team that ultimately needs a strong leader, not a bosom buddy.

The issue is certainly a delicate and difficult one to negotiate. To help you avoid embarrassment, inappropriate behavior, or a lawsuit, we’ve compiled a list of do’s and don’ts regarding employer-employee schmoozing.

Do go for beers with staff

Contrary to what you may have heard, there’s really no harm in socializing with your employees after hours. In fact, you’re more likely to earn your staff’s respect if they’re able to see the more human side of your personality. Employees will appreciate that their supervisor is making an effort to get to know them beyond their own rigid office personas.

So by all means, go for the occasional or semi-regular after-hours beer. And make sure the first round’s on you!

Don’t stay past the first round 

Showing up for drinks is one thing; overstaying your welcome, however, is another. It’s important that you draw some kind of line. You’ll want to give your team space to spend quality time outside the office together, sans your authoritative presence.

In order to build mutual trust, boost morale, and bond with one another, co-workers in any company need to be able to sit down together and talk about work politics – without fear of punishment or recrimination from their superior. To put an even finer point on it, they need to be able to talk about you, their manager. You may be the best person in the world to work for, but your employees will want and need some space to vent or compare notes with one another.

Some bosses fall into the trap of trying to become best friends with their staff – a move that causes confusion and inefficiency among a team that ultimately needs a strong leader, not a bosom buddy. 

This isn’t always the easiest idea to stomach, but unfortunately, it’s part and parcel of the experience of being a manager – it’s what you signed up for. So shore up your ego and try not to dwell too much on this inevitability.

Do take an interest in employees’ lives 

Everyone wants a boss who works every bit as hard, if not harder, as their employees. At the same time, nobody wants to have a boss who is so consumed with their own work that they won’t take even the slightest interest in their staff. So make a point of expressing some curiosity about the basic details of your workers’ lives – innocuous things, like where they’re from, what their past work and educational experiences were like, and what their basic hobbies or interests are. If they’re quite forthcoming, you can follow up with general questions about their families or home lives, though be sure to tread lightly here and take your cues from them.

Similarly, if a staff member seems to be having some sort of personal crisis that is impinging on their ability to work, you can privately express your concern (without prying for specifics), and gently remind them of any support options that may be available to them, such as your human resources department, referrals to counseling services, a leave of absence, and the like. You can also ask if there’s anything you can do for them as a manager, e.g., more flexible hours, a chance to work remotely, and so on. 

Don’t get too invested 

As a manager, you want to show your employees that you care about them as people. But at the same time, you need to respect – and enforce – certain boundaries. You can be warm and friendly; you can provide mentorship and act as a pillar of support when professional issues arise. But you can’t be their best friend.

Indeed, if you become too chummy with your staff, you risk blurring the necessary divisions that exist along a given chain of command. Myriad problems can ensue. For example, people may feel they aren’t receiving adequate leadership or guidance. Jealousies and competition may arise among staff members who feel they are not among your favourites. The list goes on.

Do organize team-building events 

Studies show that teams generally perform better when they’ve established a sense of kinship, trust, and common values or goals. While after-work socializing can help employees bond, it’s important to organize several structured team-building events each year.

Whether it’s a company dinner, a field trip, or an interactive activity of some kind (bowling is a lot more fun than it sounds!), your staff will benefit from relaxing together as a team and getting a chance to chat about things other than work.

Indeed, if you become too chummy with your staff, you risk blurring the necessary divisions that exist along a given chain of command. 

Don’t trap them 

You’ve likely heard it before: a friend or acquaintance complaining about having to spend an awkward weekend sharing a hotel room with their officemate on a company trip. While corporate retreats can be great for encouraging brainstorming or team bonding, you should be wary of requiring your staff to spend extended personal time together – especially in conditions in which they will be forced to forsake their basic privacy.

Try to strike a balance between fostering friendship among your staff, on the one hand, and forcing them to spend too much of their precious leisure time in each other’s faces, on the other.

Also, you’re a horrible person if you make them do any sort of touchy-feely trust exercise, like falling backwards into each other’s arms. Seriously, stop it.

Learning to schmooze with employees without veering into an inappropriate zone can be something of a challenge. You want them to like you, sure, and you want to be able to chat about non-work things from time to time. But you also want to keep things professional. As long as you keep in mind that you are first and foremost their boss and as such cannot become overly involved in your employees’ personal lives, you’ll achieve the desired happy medium.

Let us know what you think! At Clarity Recruitment, we’re always interested in hearing from accounting and finance professionals like yourselves, who are ready for new, exciting opportunities that can take their careers to the next level. And be sure to follow us on Twitter (@clarityrecruits) and connect with us on Facebook for more great tips and advice!