Leadership: Is It Possible to Get Too Close to Your Employees?

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Employee morale and engagement are difficult to measure, but they can be a huge boost to an organization’s productivity, not to mention retention. Fostering strong relationships among teams is a great way to boost morale and engagement, which includes the boss and peer-level team members. But can bosses be too friendly with their staff? Research suggests they can.

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The Peril of Becoming Too Close

“Conventional wisdom suggests that one of the best ways to get your employees to speak up with their suggestions and concerns is to build a sense of mutual trust, respect, and confidence,” says Joel Carnivale in an article for Entrepreneur. But Carnivale adds that leaders should also be aware that there may be limits to the benefits of building a strong work relationship with their employees.

“In a recent study, which my colleagues and I published in Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, we found that leaders who foster too close of a relationship with their employees may actually be discouraging these members from actively contributing to the success of the company by expressing their innovative ideas and suggestions,” Carnivale says.

The quote above sounds counterintuitive at first; why would a strong relationship between employees and bosses make employees less likely to share innovative ideas and suggestions?

It appears to be a matter of degree, or a matter of the strength of the relationship between employees and bosses as compared with that between employees and the organization.

Holding Back to Benefit the Relationship

The results of the research by Carnivale and his associates suggest that as the relationship between bosses and their employees grows, employees might start to put their relationship with their bosses above their responsibility to the organization.

“In other words,” Carnivale says, “employees may begin focusing on maintaining their high-quality relationship and devote less attention to conceptualizing and communicating ideas that can help the company.”

Team chemistry is a significant benefit for any organization, and the boss is obviously a key part of any team. But while a strong bond between bosses and employees is important, it’s also important not to let that bond become more important than the bond employees have with the organization as a whole.

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