Maintaining a good relationship with employees you are expected to manage, direct and motivate can be difficult in today’s corporate environment. While professionalism is still very much an expectation in most offices, so is a degree of informal friendliness, team building and egalitarianism. Indeed, although you are expected to show leadership, the expectation that your employees are working with you, as opposed to passively working for you, is very much present in many organisations today.

In this way, negotiating an appropriate style of leadership with colleagues can be very difficult. Too friendly, and you risk losing authority over the people you are supposed to be leading; too distant, and you risk rising resentment and a workforce which is unwilling to confide in you. The following tips should help you build productive employee relationships.

1. Maintain an appropriate physical proximity

The layout of an office may seem like a fairly trivial subject to most leaders and managers, but maintaining a relatively close distance can help make employees feel valued and confident in voicing their opinions. Indeed, placing yourself in an office far away and closed off from other employees can seem somewhat hostile, or as if they are of lesser value to the company than other workers and teams.

On the other hand, getting too close can make employees feel smothered, making them afraid to speak up or develop their own ideas. Place yourself just far enough away that employees do not feel they are being watched.

2. Don’t be afraid to engage with colleagues outside of work

Joining colleagues for a drink after work is perfectly acceptable for a leader, and can help employees see your human side. This is important in helping employees feel that they can confide in their managers and, of course, can be a great way to wind down after a hard day at work.

Be wary of spending too much time out of work with one or two colleagues, however. This can promote gossip and give off an air of favouritism, so stick to activities which include a wide selection of workers.

3. Ask personal questions (but not too personal)

Asking how an employee’s weekend was is a good way to build up a friendly relationship with them, and learn a little more about them as people. Finding out about employees home lives can be a good strategy for understanding how they operate at work and can make you more sensitive to when they might be facing issues. Make sure not to pry, however. Ask questions which allow them to volunteer as much information as they feel comfortable doing.

Alec Ross and Emily Banks at the AMCHAM reception in Auckland, August 31, 2012 by US Embassy New Zealand licensed under Creative commons 6