Boundaries are a key part of any healthy relationship, and that’s especially true in the workplace.
Strong relationships with colleagues can improve your work life. But if you’re overly close with a superior ― namely, your boss― the bond could actually do more harm than good, according to psychologist and executive coach Kate Snowise.
“It is great to have personal relationships at work, and research demonstrates that having a close friend at work is one of the greatest contributors to job satisfaction, but things can get weird if this person is your boss, due to the potential power they have with your career,” she told HuffPost.
We asked experts to share the telltale signs that the relationship with your boss has ventured into unhealthy or inappropriate territory.
1. You stop receiving constructive feedback about your work performance.
“There is a fine line between being a boss and a friend, and being a boss requires sometimes having the hard conversations. If you’re getting too close to your boss, you may have found that you haven’t received any constructive feedback or don’t get any guidance on how you can take your career to the next level. Friends usually don’t want to upset or offend us, but it’s often the hard feedback delivered by a boss that can be some of the greatest fuel to help us move forward in our careers.” ― Kate Snowise
2. You start feeling like the teacher’s pet.
“This is often the first red flag. You feel singled out for plum projects and are taken to lunch more often than other members of the team. You may also get more face time with you manager. This is dangerous territory not only for the manager and company ― particularly with the greater awareness of bullying and sexual harassment claims of late ― but for you. You risk being ostracized by your peers and may find it difficult to get cooperation from coworkers.” ― Lynn Taylor, workplace expert and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior & Thrive in Your Job
3. You two share inside jokes that make your colleagues uncomfortable.
“It’s OK if you develop a friendship with your boss outside of work. But it can be detrimental if you start forming inside jokes that spill into the workplace. If you find yourself sitting in meetings and you and your boss are sharing knowing glances with each other in reference to colleagues, you’re too close. This sort of behavior diminishes workplace morale and will damage productivity at work.” ― Alena Gerst, psychotherapist
4. Your meetings are more social than work-oriented.
“If you’re too close to your boss, often the line between work and play can get blurred. The danger is that you may find that you don’t get the direction or support you need, as your meetings can often become more of a social catch-up than an opportunity to discuss real work-based issues or the need for guidance. You can help get around this by sending your boss agenda items of the things you want to discuss before any meeting.” ― Kate Snowise
5. You feel obligated to see each other outside of work.
“It’s one thing to be invited to an occasional lunch alone by your manager. But if you’re being singled out, it’s happening often and it starts being combined with other outings, such as drinks or dinner, the relationship is likely crossing a healthy boundary. You should be able to do your job during normal working hours and never feel uncomfortable about the time and/or place. If you do, it’s your right to speak up immediately, with diplomacy.” ― Lynn Taylor
6. You start venting to each other like you would to a close friend or therapist.
“As much as someone can say that whatever you say to them won’t affect their impression of you, we’re all human and certain things can’t be unheard. So be careful what you share with your boss. If you find yourself using your boss as a venting buddy, telling them about your frustrations with the workplace and how you’re so hung over you can barely function, you might want to learn to keep your mouth shut.” ― Kate Snowise
7. The relationship becomes flirtatious.
“If you feel like you’re on a date versus ‘on the clock,’ there’s reason to develop an immediate strategy to deal with it. Your manager may call you by an affectionate name or cross the line with an unwanted hug, and you see this repeated. You’re made to feel awkward, and it’s difficult to be productive. The longer you wait to put a stop to their behavior, the more challenging it will be ― and the legal ramifications of this can be significant. The employer, your boss and you could all be part of a hostile work environment legal claim from other workers.” ― Lynn Taylor