Q: “One of the department heads is a good manager, but he has favorites within the operation. He spends more time talking to his buddies during and after work, and not enough time helping the rest of us do our jobs.

“He says we are all his friends, but it’s obvious that he prefers his buddies over the rest of us. Where should he draw the line?”

A: It is understandable that someone might have a close relationship with those who grew up in the same neighborhood, attended the same school or enjoy similar recreational activities. A problem develops when this leads to obvious favoritism in the workplace. This leads to resentment, conflict and a lack of respect for authority.

Coworkers need to realize that friendships at work are usually beneficial, but being buddies with certain people can be counter-productive. Here’s what I mean: Friends work together as a team and encourage each other to do a better job. Buddies take friendship too far and tend to cover for each other’s mistakes, allow policies to be broken and look the other way when a buddy does something wrong. True friends hold us accountable, but buddies will ask us to look the other way and take advantage of relationships with authority for their own benefit.

To keep work relationships fair, managers and department heads must establish the same rules for every employee and follow all policies and procedures consistently. If a manager is working with someone he has known for some time, he needs to have an honest conversation with that person prior to hiring. He must explain that any effort to take advantage of the relationship will result in disciplinary action. This needs to be reinforced periodically. As relationships develop at work, the lines between being a buddy and being a friend need to be consistently drawn and applied.

To limit the possibility of favoritism, coworkers and managers need to have regular staff meetings with all the employees, be sure that everyone is kept informed about critical information, and limit the time spent “just talking” to buddies or friends.

(For a great review of this topic, refer to the Pork magazine article, “Buddy or Boss: How to Walk the Line”  in the May 2006 issue.)

If you have questions for Dear Boss, send them to:

Don Tyler, P.O. Box 67, Stockwell, IN47983or e-mail to don@dontyler.com.

Your letter will remain confidential, and may or may not get an individual reply.