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Mind Your Manners: How to Behave Around Your Boss

No matter how ruthless, kind, unpredictable, boring, insightful, funny, or maddening your boss may be, they are still who signs your paychecks.  That aspect is what can make the relationship difficult to navigate. Whether you work in an environment that’s formal and conservative or one that’s casual and laid-back, every employee-boss relationship can lead to tricky situations that demand a little finesse. 


Few things can unite strangers faster than sharing tales about the bosses they’ve endured over the course of their careers—the bosses who screamed without reason, the bosses who rifled through other employees’ lunches, and the bosses who liked to take off their smelly shoes and fill the office with their stench. Of course, for every nightmare boss, there’s a great boss who loaned you money to fix your car or offered a friendly ear whenever you needed to talk. 

So what's the proper etiquette? 

Do I have to give my boss gifts on her birthday or during the holidays?
Lizzie Post, great-granddaughter of etiquette expert Emily Post, says the answer is an unequivocal no. “You’re not supposed to give your boss a gift,” she says. Even if your boss is a wonderful person and you really want to express your affection, it’s just not appropriate, because the gesture has the potential to look like you’re trying to buy favoritism. When certain employees give gifts, it can give other employees the impression that they’re being excluded and can make those who can’t afford a gift feel guilty. Whether it’s Christmas, a birthday, or Boss’s Day, the only time it’s appropriate to give a manager a present is if the entire team or department pitches in for a group gift, and even then it should be appropriate and in line with the relationship—no overtly personal or intimate items, gag gifts, or cash presents. If you insist on sending a personal token, make it a thoughtful card and be discreet about giving it. 

Should I follow my boss on Social Media?
At some companies, everyone is on some form of social media, from the interns to the CEO. At other workplaces, people keep their personal lives separate, both on- and offline. If you work in a casual office where people connect online regularly, it’s okay to include your boss as a Facebook friend or like their Instagram photos if you want to—it might even present interesting networking opportunities. However, if you have inappropriate or salacious content on your profile, you’ll probably want to remove this “digital dirt” before you extend or accept an invitation. You may be friendly with your boss, but it’s still unlikely that you’d want him to see pictures of your debaucherous weekends, so keep rants, political screeds, and party pics to a minimum. If your boss extends an invitation that you’re reluctant to accept, simply explain that you’d rather keep your personal life to yourself. Many people have a squeaky-clean Facebook profile for use with their colleagues and a personal account where it’s okay to be NSFW. 

My boss is also my good friend. What’s the best way to handle this?
Whether your friend gets you a job at her company or a coworker you’re close with is promoted to a position of authority, it’s not uncommon for one friend to end up supervising another. The important thing is to draw a discrete line between your personal and professional relationships so that other employees don’t feel like your special connection is giving you an upper hand. Don’t expect favors, don’t monopolize work time discussing personal business, and don’t be a snitch. If you have sensitive information about coworkers, it’s not appropriate to reveal it to a supervisor, even if you’re friends. Likewise, your friend might have information about the company that she can’t share with you, so don’t expect her to give you the juiciest gossip about upper management or the inner workings of the business. She may be your friend, but at work, the professional relationship has to come first. 

My boss invites us out for drinks and to parties and gets angry if I don’t come.
It’s nice when a supervisor wants to engender a feeling of camaraderie among a team, but if you occasionally can’t attend the festivities or you prefer not to socialize with coworkers at all, your personal reasons are not for your boss to judge. Whether it’s because of family obligations or financial constraints, or simply because you just don’t feel like it, tell your boss calmly that you have other plans and won’t be attending. If constant socializing with coworkers is wearing on you, perhaps it’s time to suggest that there are other ways to boost company morale besides drinking and partying. 

Although taking gibes about being a party pooper might make you feel less than enthusiastic about your boss, remember that even if you’re annoyed by constant pressure to party, other people may enjoy it. To you, your boss is a pushy jerk, but to your coworkers, he could seem like a lot of fun. In her book A Survival Guide to Working with Bad Bosses, Gini Graham Scott writes, “Though technically [your boss’s] expectations for off-the-job partying are beyond the requirements for your job, you might find a way to compromise. By not participating at all, you are the odd person out at the company.” If it’s intolerable to make the occasional appearance, perhaps a different corporate culture would be a better fit for you. 

Do I need to invite my boss to my wedding?
According to, you’re under no obligation to invite anybody you don’t want to, and that includes your boss. Gone are the days when inviting the boss to every major event in your life was a prerequisite for climbing the corporate ladder, so even if you’re inviting some coworkers, there’s no need to invite your boss if you feel it could be awkward, especially if you don’t envision yourself staying at the company for much longer. If you have a close relationship, though, then by all means add your boss to the guest list. 

In matters of deadlines, goals, and work performance, interacting with your supervisor is easy, but the relationship gets much more complicated when you have to deal with your boss as a person. No matter what kind of boss you have—aloof or involved, demanding or accommodating— it’s better to have a friendly relationship than a tense one, even if it does bring on special etiquette challenges.

Allison Ford

Allison is a writer and editor who specializes in beauty, style, entertainment, and pop culture. She was part of the editorial team at DivineCaroline (now for more than three years. She loves makeup, sparkly accessories, giraffes, brunch, Matt Damon, New York City, and ice cream.

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