Frontline Supervisor: Socializing With Employees

Frontline Supervisor: Socializing With Employees

On 3 Feb 2016, in Frontline Supervisor, Management, Workplace

Each month, "The Balance Sheet" provides questions and answers from experts on a topic that's important to you as a manager. Please feel free to share this information with other colleagues who also manage people

Q. I have an employee who does not participate in any after-hours activities that the other employees attend. She’s a great performer, but I tend to think more highly of employees who join in the fun. Should I inquire about why she does not join in? Maybe there’s a personal problem.

A. Employees who do not participate in social activities are often judged harshly for what appears to be their avoidant or “antisocial” style by those who feel annoyed or rejected by their absence. More often than not, these employees are not demonstrating struggles with work-life balance or mental health issues associated with social avoidance. Instead, they may have close and valued relationships away from work that more effectively meet their needs. Many dedicated workers won’t see potential gains in undirected social activity. Some prefer closer, more intimate associations and are unmoved by peer pressure to join in other social opportunities. Some employees simply prefer their own company and the solitude of their creative thoughts. Try sharing how much you would personally like this employee to join you and the group. Emphasize the creativity or new ideas that often emerge in a less pressured setting, and share how much others would value his or her company. This direct invitation may break the ice.

Q. Should I avoid asking my employees to socialize with me? For example, at the end of a long week, asking one of them out for a drink?

A. This question has no pat answer unless you are bound by a code of conduct or work rule prohibiting such a practice. It is wise to consider the complex issues that exist when a manager initiates a request to socialize with a supervisee. Seldom discussed with supervisors is education and awareness about “supervisor power.” Your position of control over an employee is a reality and a complex dynamic. It is something you can’t deny, change, or temporarily put aside. Many supervisors have difficulty with this concept. They reject it because they feel self-aware enough and disciplined enough to wear two hats, that of an impartial friend and all-around good guy (or gal), and that of a strong leader who gets things done. Employees however, are very aware of your authority and supervisory role. They must weigh not only the benefit of a social invitation, but the repercussions of saying yes or no. No matter how friendly and reassuring you are, you will not dispel that. Relationships between supervisors and supervisees vary dramatically across industries, work cultures and circumstances. The above supports the argument against initiating social relationships in many of them, but do they match yours?

Q. Employees who are “part of the club” seem much happier. Some employees avoid socializing with their peers. They rely solely on their performance to advance in the organization. I know it’s not fair, but social skills and competence are important. How can I help?

A. The reality is that social competence in the environment is important. When examined closely, employers more often choose to hire employees who have these abilities because they can help create an upbeat work culture and positively influence the bottom line. Although socializing, telling jokes and bringing in the donuts are not essential duties, it is still appropriate to help your employee connect with peers. Some of this depends on your employee’s willingness to be more engaging. During reviews, if appropriate to your organization’s format, inquire as to how the person feels about his or her connection to the larger environment and with peers. Statements indicating a desire to be more a part of the social network will give you a sense of how far you can go in making recommendations. Remember, BJC EAP is always ready to help.


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