I’m not your mate, I’m your work colleague!

July 26, 2017

HR180’s HR Assistant, Simon Underwood, has had a wealth of experience working with and managing others. Here he shares some experiences and points out why it might not be such a good idea for bosses and employees to be over friendly!

By Simon Underwood

SME business culture, policies, HR Leeds

Many years ago one of my workplaces recruited a new manager. Some of us had worked with him before and knew that he was a tough, no nonsense, by the book manager. In his first week in the job he passed a particularly popular and chirpy member of staff who said to him, “Morning mate”. He was stopped immediately in his tracks by a deadpan stern faced reply, “I’m not your mate, I’m your boss! You can call me Fred (not his real name, mainly because I’m scared he might read this!!) or Mr Jones (see previous note!)”.

As we worked in a customer service environment where, in the main, employees and managers were outgoing, friendly and highly sociable, this came as a bit of a shock. The member of staff made his way to the staff room and ranted and raved about how abrupt and rude this was. However, in that one, small conversation the manager had successfully laid down a marker to show what he expected from his team.

He was not there to be liked he was there to get the job done, and respect and professional distance was maintained from that point onward.

Avoid cronyism!

From an HR perspective it is important that your managers maintain a professional distance and try where possible to avoid cronyism and nepotism.

Here are some of the main factors to consider.

  • Some managers and employees may find the ‘hand of friendship’ an intrusion into their private lives and may feel they have to agree to socialise to prevent bad feeling.
  • When at work social events, managers should leave earlier to allow the employees time to let their hair down properly – and so the manager doesn’t embarrass themselves!
  • Employees will complain about even the best managers and vice versa: if this crosses over this can create work imbalances.
  • There is a risk of discrimination. Real or imagined, employees will believe that the ‘friend’ of the management is favoured over the other team members.
  • Disciplinaries, sackings, restructures and pay grades are all issues that can affect friendships in the workplace.
  • Confidential information could be shared inappropriately.
  • Can create an perceived atmosphere of favouritism.


There is a counter argument to consider and that is the culture of the business that you work for.

The culture of each business needs to be taken into consideration and it is to be remembered that at work social events you are still on company time and subject to company policies and procedures. Thus, it is important to bear in mind that outside of work with work colleagues you still need to maintain the correct level of professionalism.

Here at HR180, a family culture is encouraged where social and charitable functions are a regular occurrence. Our culture is to encourage open and frank discussion and decisions are made as a team. (However the buck still stops with Claire!)

I am not sure what happened to my old boss, but years later as a supervisor myself whenever a new member of staff would refer to me as “mate” I would reply with a wry smile and a nod to Fred “I’m not your mate, I’m your boss!”

If you would like a once over of your policies and culture, then talk to us, the superteam of HR professionals who help businesses as their retained HR or as outsourced HR consultants. Get in touch for a chat about your business – contact details below.

Leeds based HR180 is a team of superheroes in HR Outsourcing, Projects and Consultancy committed to work in partnership with organisations of all sizes to establish working policies to go above and beyond Employment Law requirements, to protect both employees and employers alike. We love to hear from you, so call us on 0113 287 8150 or hit the Rescue Me button.

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