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Buddy or boss? Can you be too friendly?

by in GP Practice Management, Staff

Life in general practice can be demanding. Workloads, difficult patients, bureaucracy, long hours…the list of stresses goes on, meaning it’s better if a practice’s staff all get along. While it’s good to be friendly and get along, is there such a thing as being too friendly?

For one practice, the answer is most definitely yes! Posting on the Practice Index forum, one practice manager detailed the problem of a staff member who is constantly leaving messages for a senior member of staff about how much they love them, how great they are, and how they can’t believe how lucky they are to have them as a line manager!

The result was that the line manager spoke to the practice manager to say that it had all got a bit much, especially the messages, cards and gifts and the fact other staff members had begun to notice it.

While this is perhaps an extreme example, the problem of staff becoming over-friendly is a common one. With this in mind, what can practice managers do to resolve the problem – or prevent it becoming a problem in the first place? How can you keep a professional distance and avoid the appearance of favouritism, yet still make sure that you don’t alienate the employee?

Nip it in the bud early

One practice manager told us that when they joined a practice (not the one they’re in now) there was a real problem with staff being over-friendly.

“Staff were overly keen to make friends – it was like they were all vying to be my best friend,” the PM told us. “The problem was that the previous manager was keen to socialise with staff, almost to the point where staff were expected to go to the pub every Friday or go for dinner on regular occasions. Not doing so would be frowned upon.”

The PM went on to explain that they had to take a pretty tough stance to address the problem – which did cause some short-term tension, but which was worth it in the long run.

“I had tried a subtle approach, but it wasn’t working, so I just had to be direct. I started telling people that I couldn’t talk right now or pointing out that I needed to work, and so did they. I also made it clear in specially created meetings that there were no prizes for socialising together – and no pressure from me to do so. Of course, I delivered the messages in a pleasant, non-threatening tone, and it worked.

“To be honest, I think staff were relieved. They felt like they got their life back. They also suddenly started achieving more at work, which boosted morale. I think many practice managers are simply too polite. They nod and smile while people continue to chat – when it can actually pay to stamp your authority. In the case I read about on the Practice Index forum, I think the PM just needs to be straight with the employee and tell them they’re overstepping the mark, giving reasons why.”

Professional tone

Talking to an HR consultant for this article, it’s clear that setting a professional tone is vitally important when striking the right management balance.

“Practice managers need to lead by example,” they told us. “The way you conduct yourself in the workplace is how employees will react to you. For example, holding a meeting at the beginning of each day can set a professional tone and provide the opportunity to outline goals and initiatives for each day. This also allows employees to ask questions and discuss concerns in a structured forum.

“During the rest of the day, be professional and approachable, but don’t get drawn into trying to be friends – and that includes avoiding the ‘overshare’.”

“The difficulty is that people often spend more waking hours with their colleagues than they do loved ones, so it’s tough to avoid veering into personal territory. However, when employees begin to have personal trouble, managers need to have enough distance so that they can treat it professionally and through the right processes, channels and resources.”

“Finally,” outlines the HR specialist, “It’s possible that, despite your best efforts, employees may become too informal or share too much information about their personal lives. When that happens, kindly but firmly make a correction. A simple line saying, “it’s best if we don’t discuss personal issues in the workplace,” usually does the trick.”

Balancing act

The difficulty for practice managers is that they need to build a sense of team, without getting too close – and that can be tricky (a number of posts on this blog have covered this exact topic in detail – they can be found here – and are well worth a read).

With that in mind, we’ll conclude with these comments from one of the practice managers we spoke to when putting together this article. They told us: “Yes, team spirit is essential and there’s no harm in a bit of socialising or office banter. But, keep in mind that, in the workplace, it’s more important to be a boss than to be a friend. Being too friendly can jeopardise your authority.”

“Above all else, practice teams need a leader, not a buddy. In the end, they’ll like you more when you focus less on being liked and more on offering guidance and support.”

We think those are wise words.

How do you strike the right balance with your team? What tips can you share to ensure teams don’t become over-friendly? Is there even such a thing as being too friendly? Let us know by commenting below or head to the Practice Index forum to share your thoughts.

Topics trending in the forum:

When is enough, enough?
Annual leave
Health checks and making them work for you
The role of the practice manager

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Practice Index

Practice Index

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