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How Friendly Should a Manager Be With Employees?

Can a Manager and Employees Develop Too Much of a Rapport?
A manager and employee on friendly terms

A large part of successful business coaching is the development of a rapport by managers with employees to facilitate constructive dialogue, as mentioned in other articles such as the importance of having an open door policy and being seen regularly by employees by stepping out of their office and walking around the workplace.

This rapport building means that in many cases friendships will begin to develop between managers and employees, and sometimes even more than friendship if they were to become romantically involved. But is this closeness and friendliness a good thing or a bad thing when it comes to business coaching?

It is an extremely difficult question to answer, and probably one which has no definitive right or wrong answer, which makes it especially tricky for those first line managers who are new to management. Whilst the openness that comes with the friendship will normally allow the employee to feel more relaxed and able to discuss their feelings and concerns with the manager, it may also place them in a difficult position if the problems they have in fulfilling their potential at work are with the manager themselves, as they may not feel that they are able to say what they really feel as it may ruin the friendship. Similarly the manager may be placed in an awkward position if they feel that they cannot act objectively and impartially. They may be torn between either having to risk ruining the relationship with their friend, or being seen to be giving them special treatment in the eyes of other workers which can cause serious disruption and de-motivation amongst them.

Lunch and Business Coaching

Business Coaching Sessions Can Be Informal

A lunch break can provide a perfect opportunity for a manager who is a coach to engage in business coaching with one of their employees. It is best performed on a one-to-one basis to enable the easy two-way interaction and discussion needed, as having a small or even a large group on a lunch meeting can end up turning into a loud party where only the loudest can be heard over the many competing voices and friendship groups only sit and talk to each other.

Having lunch together presents a less formal and less imposing atmosphere for the coaching session to take place than it would in, say, a small room in the office. This can help facilitate the 'opening-up' and breaking down barriers which can prevent the employee from talking about the issues which are preventing them from maximising their full potential in the workplace.

Remember That Lunchtime is a Break!

It is important that it is not just work-related matters which are discussed during lunch, otherwise employees will feel like this is something which is taking up their break away from the workplace and should really be being performed during working hours! They may resent the manager talking about work the entire time on what should be their leisure time.

Remember to Treat All Employees Similarly

It is also important that different members of the team are included in these lunchtime coaching sessions/get togethers so that they do not feel excluded and that the manager favours certain other employees over them. Whilst used best as an intermittent strategy, lunch should also not be used solely when there is a problem or bad news to discuss with an employee, otherwise workers will dread the sessions or start circulating rumours whenever a lunch coaching session is scheduled between the manager and one of them.

A large part of successful business coaching revolves around rapport building and so lunch sessions, particularly over time, can help to develop the relationship between manager and worker, providing both a platform and an environment for ideas to be generated, issues to be resolved and action plans to be devised and put into motion.

How is Business Coaching a Good Way to Keep in Touch with Employees?

Many Employees Can Be Afraid of Approaching Managers

In many businesses, no matter where they are located in the world or which industry they are engaged in, there will often be a disconnect between management and the employees. Managers will all too often be seen as a group of people who cannot be approached unless it is an absolutely necessary, work process-related issue.

A Manager Needs to Communicate with Workers
A young female manager talks to her team

This sort of structure and perception can be extremely damaging when it comes to keeping abreast of what workers are feeling, how motivated they are, what their specific strengths and weaknesses are, what their ambitions for future development are, what issues are present down on the shop floor which may be limiting productivity and efficiency, along with many more examples.

Not only this, but this lack of communication also means that whenever employees have minor issues and wishes such as slight changes to their working hours or type/location of work which could easily be resolved through dialogue, they may simply seek alternative employment if they feel they cannot or do not have the opportunity to discuss their requirements with a manager. This can result in a company losing valuable employees when they could easily have had their needs accommodated if managers had been more approachable.

Regular Business Coaching Provides a Fantastic Opportunity for Dialogue

Business coaching is a tremendous method for managers to keep in touch with employees. As it is most often performed on a one-to-one basis it means the manager and the employee can have a dedicated and uninterrupted discussion.

Managers are often extremely busy people, but it is important for them to make time to engage in business coaching with their employees in order to create these opportunities for communication and the resolution of issues. If they hold a business coaching qualification such as the ILM Level 5 Certificate in Coaching and Mentoring they will be able to provide highly effective coaching sessions for their employees.

How Giving Frequent Advice Can Be Bad

In business coaching and mentoring the giving of advice can often be highly beneficial to an employee as they continue their quest of self-development and improvement in their workplace capacity. But whilst it is usually beneficial - unless it is bad advice of course! - too much of it, particularly when given at the wrong time, can prove to be detrimental to an employee.

Too Much Advice Can Lead to Dependency on the Manager...

This can be for a number of reasons, but typically it is because workers settle into a state of dependency on the manager as the advice is often the manager telling a worker that this is how it should be done. Even if they are merely giving their opinion by saying that this is the way in which they would do it, an employee will take this as the way that it should be done as they will want to stay in the managers good books so doing things the way in which they would do it is likely to please them.

... As Well as Causing Annoyance and Indignation

Aside from creating a culture of dependency on the manager, the constant giving of advice, comments, stories about past successes etc may in fact begin to grate and annoy staff after a while. Although some may feel comfortable in having a manager make every little decision and seek approval before they do anything, there will be many other employees who do like to feel empowered and will greatly resent the manager stifling their creativity. They may also feel like they are being criticised if the manager constantly tells them how they would do something if it is different to how the employee is doing it. This can lead to a drop in morale and motivation, and may even culminate with the employee seeking alternative employment if they reach a point where they can no longer tolerate it anymore.

Using Fear Does Not Motivate

Fear Does Not Always Motivate

A common misconception amongst some managers is that if they rule the business by instilling fear into their employees that they will motivate them and have a hard-working team. Whilst this may have some success in the short-term, it is unlikely to be a sustainable strategy and will almost inevitably lead to problems and issues sooner rather than later.

Managing by Fear is Not Usually a Long-Term Strategy
An angry manager shouting at workers in an office

Fear more often than not leads to compliance rather than motivation. Employees do the task to the best of their ability because they are afraid of incurring the wrath of their manager.

Whilst many will wonder what the problem is as the work is being done and employees are working hard, the reality is that this strategy will only work for a fairly short time, as workers will soon become disillusioned and resentful of being treated in such a manner and will seek alternative employment in a different company.

This can be disastrous for the company as not only will it lose talented people, but they are likely to defect to rival firms where they may also take sensitive information or improved ways of working. So not only will them leaving damage their existing employer, it will also provide a boost for a competitor.

Potential Short-Term Problems

Using fear in an attempt to motivate employees can even backfire spectacularly in the short term too.

Workers may rail against being ordered about, threatened with the sack, being publically lambasted for mistakes or whatever, and may walk out, go on strike, quit, or go on a go-slow, which may put the whole project in jeopardy.

Workers who are unhappy may also demand higher wages to compensate them for the way they are being treated, which results in higher financial obligations for the company and can prove to be a major headache for the manager.

Is it Possible to Order People to Use Initiative?

A Well-Established Chain of Command Can Make it Hard for Employees to Show Initiative

In an organisational hierarchy, instructions will come down from management above down to line managers and supervisors, and then down to the shop floor. In organisations and businesses with a well-established hierarchy and chain of command workers will be used to following instructions from those above them in the chain. So this begs the question of whether it is possible to order people to take initiative and solve problems for themselves when they are reluctant to do so and are used to deferring everything to their manager to solve for them.

Managerial Orders do Not Work as Well as They Used To

Managers always need to be careful when it comes to issuing instructions or 'orders'. Whilst it is true that they are in a position of authority and responsible for instructing employees on what to do, they must keep in mind that workers are much more willing and able to quit and change jobs than they were, say, a hundred years ago when they did what the boss said without question and worked for the same company all of their working lives as they were the only major employer in the area. This means that managers cannot simply go around barking orders without running the very real risk of the employee telling them where to go and leaving!

Being Subtle Results in Greater Success
A smiling, happy female employee

There will be times though when the manager wants an employee to change or do things which they may not feel comfortable with initially. Rather than simply ordering them to "do it or else" the manager can use business coaching techniques and individual sessions to subtly work on changing the attitude and working styles of the person.

When it comes to issues such as taking initiative and attempting to solve problems by themselves, a worker who is set in their ways or fearful of change may simply flat out refuse if they were ordered to do it. However, by taking things slow and gradually attempting to change their behaviour, sometimes without the person even realising it, the manager can get the employee to change.

Often a reluctance to take initiative will be down to a lack of confidence or belief in their own ability, but by gradually building this up within the discussions and in small goals and targets set in the business coaching sessions the employee is then likely to be much more willing to take initiative or simply do it without even being asked. This method is far more likely to succeed than simply ordering them about.

Working With Employees Rather Than Instilling Fear

Motivating Through Fear

Instilling fear into employees is part of the carrot and stick approach to motivation.

By instilling fear into workers - which is the metaphorical stick - the objective is to get them to work harder in order to avoid the negative consequences that were outlined in the threat.

By frightening employees into thinking that they may lose their job or receive a rollicking for not achieving set goals and objectives, the manager hopes to make them work harder and get it done.

A Successful Outcome Will Depend Upon Individual Employee Personalities

The success or failure of the stick approach will depend largely upon the personality of the individual workers. Whilst some may respond well to this fear by getting things done to avoid the manager's wrath, others may be the complete opposite and put up resistance to the way in which the manager treats them and their fellow colleagues.

This can range from minor grumbling right through to full-on strike action, and can have the direct opposite effect upon output than the manager wished for.

The Carrot Approach Usually Works Better
Carrot and stick motivation

There will often be a higher probability of successfully motivating staff by working with employees rather than instilling fear within them. This can involve having idea generation meetings with them, developing action plans and collaboratively solving problems.

Without the assistance that can be provided in these meetings and business coaching sessions the worker may just get into more and more of a panic as they are frightened of the consequences but are also too afraid of approaching the manager for help.

Managers Need to Really Understand What Motivates Their Employees

A good and successful manager will need to be acutely aware of the ways in which their employees are motivated and how to get the best out of them in order to get tasks done and targets achieved.

This can be one of the hardest lessons for a new manager to learn when they have had little or no management training or experience.

About Us

The BCF Group have evolved from the Business Coaching Foundation, which was established in 2001. We have leadership development and business coaching at our core. Having representation from global learning leads, executive coaches and talent development specialists, we deliver accredited people development programs.

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