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I've been challenged by this question a lot in my years working in HR, and more recently, as a manager - yet I'm still not sure I have the answer. I'm currently working on a frontline leadership program, aimed at employees who have transitioned from working 'on the tools' to supervisory positions. These leaders are now faced with the challenge of managing, well, their mates. So the question is, can you be a manager, and a mate?

Whilst I don't agree that when you step into a leadership position, you give up all friendly relationships in the workplace, I do think boundaries change, and you will need to make a conscious effort to set these boundaries with your team. Can you still have a friendly relationship? Of course. Do you continue to go out for beers on the weekend with your team? Well, probably not.

Research shows us that it's important for everyone to have at least one 'friend' at work. In 30 years of organisational engagement research at Gallup, the question 'do you have a best friend at work?' is often controversial. With some believing strongly that personal friendships should be left at the door. Gallup's research shows the impact that employees who have a close friend at work has on performance. For example, women who strongly agree they have a best friend at work are more than twice as likely to be engaged (63%) compared with the women who say otherwise (29%). Crazy, right?

But what about if you're a manager? Or in my past life, in Human Resources (gasp, no!). Whilst it's equally important for leaders to have a support network in their jobs, who makes up that network should be carefully considered. Think peers, mentors and those outside the organisation. When it comes to your team, or those you have the power to directly influence, the line between 'friend' and 'manager' should be dealt with cautiously. Remembering that scenarios (often outside of your control) will put strain on that friendship, and working relationship.

What happens in the case of underperformance, or misconduct? Are you both professional enough to handle those situations without taking into consideration your friendship? Even if you argue that yes, you would be able to seperate your friendship and management responsibilities - what you cannot control, is other people's perceptions of your relationship. And trust me, perceptions DO matter. Perceived favouritism, for example, will have a detrimental effect on the whole team.

I don't mean to suggest that when you're a manager, you abandon all humanness in the workplace. The term 'mate' is an Australianism that can mean a broad spectrum of things. For me, being a manager and a mate is OK if it means:

  • Asking how their life is outside of work

  • Checking-in to see how they are going

  • Being friendly, and offering support

It's not a black and white answer, and for 'people people' like myself, it can be challenging to navigate without crossing the line. But if you set clear boundaries with your team, and stand by them when you need to, you'll be on the right track.

Bold statement, I know. Unfortunately, the studies show it to be true. The more successful a man is, the more popular and 'liked' he becomes. The more successful a woman is, the less popular she becomes. Have you felt this as a female leader? Or observed this, regardless of your gender?

The Howard Vs. Heidi Study* explains:

Heidi Roizen was a successful Silicon Valley venture capitalist who became the subject of a case study at Columbia Business School. Professor Frank Flynn, presented half his class with the case study with Heidi’s name on it, and gave half the class the same case study with her name changed to “Howard”. ⁠

The students rated “Howard” and Heidi, equally competent (encouraging, considering they are the same person), but the students liked Howard, but not Heidi. Specifically, they felt Heidi was significantly less likable and worthy of being hired than Howard and perceived her as more “selfish” than Howard. They thought Howard would be a 'great guy', but they wouldn't trust Heidi. ⁠Perhaps she was in it for the wrong reasons. Sheryl Sandberg talks a lot about this study in her book, Lean In.

Why is this? And have you ever been guilty of not trusting a successful woman, when you wouldn't question a man's motives in the same position?

Research suggests that we are still not used to seeing women in leadership positions. As of February 2021, we have only 21 elected women as head of state or government out of 193 recognised nations**. We clearly need more women in leadership positions. But how do we do this? It doesn't happen overnight, but at the rate we are going, it will be another 130 years before we see a marked change.

Well, step one is acknowledging that this is still a reality. Real-time statistics from the Australian Institute of Company Directors reveals that only 32.6% of directors in the ASX 200 are women.

Secondly, change needs to start at a young age. We need little girls to stop being called "bossy" in the playground when little boys are not. We need to show our girls that they can be whatever they dream of becoming, and be mindful of the role-models they are looking up to. We need to show our children that roles within the household aren't defined by gender.

We need real flexibility and creativity in the workplace, not just token gestures, so that women are encouraged to build their careers and have a family, should they choose to. Paid parental leave, support and flexibility for fathers or other caregivers so that the responsibility doesn't always rely on the mother. The list goes on.

We have come a long way, but boy (pardon the pun), we still have a long way to go.

*Leadership Psychology Institute, Howard Vs. Heidi Study


Having babies is not a new thing, right? It's been happening since the start of time apparently. So why is it then, that every time an employee announces their pregnancy, (or the pregnancy of their partner), in which they will require time off and a degree of flexibility, there tends to be a level of internal hysteria and stress with some managers when they come to see me, in HR about it?

Who will take on their projects? When will they return? What if they don't return full-time? Well, first things first shall we. Usually, you are in the position to have time up your sleeve. But this doesn't mean you wait until the week before they go on leave to start planning. Other than, of course, the magical occurrence of a new baby in the world - this is actually a brilliant opportunity for your organisation to bring in fresh ideas, attract great talent, support your existing employees and solidify a collaborative, flexible and family friendly workplace culture - if you do it right.

It's also an opportunity to make employees feel isolated and disengaged, if you do it wrong (no pressure)! So where do we start? Here are my eight ways you can support your employees on parental leave and come out with a more engaged, productive and happy workforce.

1. Inform yourself

It's important that you first understand your responsibilities as an employer when it comes to parental leave. Your organisation should have it's own policy when it comes to this, so speak to your HR department if you have one, or visit the Fair Work Ombudsman, where they have some great resources including a Best Practice Guide for Parental Leave. This isn't just about mothers either, it's important you understand your responsibilities for all carers. If you don't yet have a policy around this, now is the time to get one in place. I can help you with this.

2. Communication is key

Although it would be great to have a crystal ball right about now, don't assume you know what your employee will want to do (how long they plan to take off, when they wish to return and in what capacity). Heck, they probably don't even know this yet! What is important now is that you keep the lines of communication open with your employee. They might have an idea in the early stages that they wish to take 12 months leave, for example - and this could be your starting point for recruiting a replacement. Remember, at this point your employee has no obligation to have a firm plan in place about when and how they will return to the workplace after that period of leave, and a lot of things can change over the coming months, so try not to push this point, as much as you would like to plan ahead.

4. Recruiting a replacement

Wherever possible, I advise to have the employee going on leave somehow involved in the recruitment process of their replacement. After all, they are the one who knows the role the best. This is also a great opportunity to review the job description and responsibilities. Are there others in the organisation who could take on part of the role as a developmental opportunity? Could this be a chance for someone internally to step into this position for period of time as a secondment? Whoever you decide is the best fit for the role - it is beneficial to have a period of handover between the employee going on leave and the new employee (I suggest 1-2 weeks depending on the role). This is one of the rare opportunities you have in recruitment whereby you have a definitive time frame of when a new role will commence, so plan ahead and start your recruitment drive for this position early!

3. Confirm responsibilities

Confirm with the employee their entitlements (and responsibilities) in writing as soon as you can. This may be in the form of an information pack containing your parental leave policy, any paid maternity leave or paternity leave your company offers, details on how to claim the government paid parental leave, your flexible working procedure, information about keeping-in-touch days while on leave, a letter confirming the date they wish to finish work and what they are required to supply you (i.e. a certificate from their doctor confirming the expected due date). If you're unsure how to develop these documents, Hello People Co. can assist you.

5. Keeping in Touch

Keeping in touch while the employee is on parental leave is a critical part of them feeling attached to their career, connected to their colleagues and the workplace, and could be a determining factor in them deciding to return to work. Simple ways to do this could be forwarding the staff newsletter to their home email address, ensuring someone is responsible for forwarding important information to them, inviting them to social events, team lunches, planning days or training.

It is important to note that employees can choose whether or not they decide to participate in work-related activities while on leave, and it can't be a requirement for them to do so. If they do attend work during leave, they should be paid for work-related activity at their usual rate of pay.

6. Be Creative & Flexible

Before the employee is due to return to work, arrange a meeting to discuss their intentions for their return. Perhaps they wish to return part-time, or change their days of work or hours to suit caring responsibilities. Depending on the employee, the role and your organisation, a phased return to the workplace may also be appropriate. I.e. they may wish to return just two days per week for a few weeks while their child adjusts to other caring arrangements and before they return to their role in their full capacity. If an employee does wish to return to work in a part-time capacity for a role which is traditionally full-time, get creative. Is it possible to re-arrange the role so that it can be done over fewer days? Can the role be shared with another person? Perhaps a few days can be done from home? Let's be honest, parents with babies are usually very organised, productive and efficient with their time - they need to be! It's no longer acceptable, nor is it reasonable to give the standard answer of "you must be in the office 38 hours per week for this role." It's 2021, if you're not flexible and creative, you'll lose great talent to organisations who are.

7. Be prepared for their return

To ensure a smooth transition back into the workplace, ensure you are just as prepared for their return as you would be for a new employee walking into your doors for the first time. As their manager, ensure you block out a significant part of their first day back (or at least, ensure they have someone in the team to do the same) to help them through what could be a daunting day. Are their systems activated? Does their swipe card work? Make sure everything is set up for them to get back into it. Hopefully, if you've been keeping in touch while they have been on leave, it will make the return to work even more smooth.

Just like you would for a new employee, consider a re-induction into the workplace after a long period of leave. It doesn't need to be a full induction program, but it might be re-training in software programs or new policies that have come into place since they left. They may need to be introduced to new employees, clients or customers they will be working with.

8. Review and monitor

As with any change, it's important that you review and monitor how effective it is. Whether the employee has returned into a new position, or you are trialing different working hours for the role - catch up regularly within the first few months back to ensure it's working for both parties, and they are getting the support they need.

I hope this has been useful. If you're looking for support to ensure your workplace practices are up to scratch, please contact me at or check out

Another great resource is the Fair Work Ombudsman:

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