October 11, 2018

Unless you’re self-employed, you likely have a boss. For many people, this relationship is a foundational part of their work life—how you get along with a boss, how you work together, and how much you trust and empathize with one another, can have a significant impact on your day-to-day well-being, as well as long-term career prospects.

As part of our continued exploration of relationships in the workplace, we set out to better understand relationships between bosses and employees, specifically in terms of familiarity. What’s a normal level of closeness in the modern American workplace, what constitutes that closeness, and how do things vary across gender and industry? We surveyed 3,000 people to find out.

friends with bossAs part of our survey, we established 14 factors that indicate familiarity between bosses and employees, ranging from experiences they’ve had together, ways they’re connected digitally, and how their personal lives intersect. By far the most common connection: personal phone numbers. Seven out of 10 Americans have their boss’s personal phone number.

The next most common point of connection is conversational in nature—38 percent of Americans report they have at some point asked their boss for advice about a personal issue. Interestingly, nearly as many—29 percent—report their boss has asked them for advice about a personal issue. While these numbers hardly represent a majority, they’re interesting no less, and speak to a level of trust and comfort in many workplaces. Similar in terms of non-work-related communication, nearly 30 percent of people also report having called or messaged a boss about something unrelated to work.

Also relatively high on the list were events like “visited my boss’s home,” or “hung out with my boss socially.” Much less common than those tangible, in-person connections, are connections over social platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. Less than 10 percent of people are connected with a boss on these platforms (though 1 in 3 are Facebook friends).

A seemingly important milestone in any boss-employee relationship is when families and significant others enter the picture. Most common is for a boss to introduce her or his significant other to employees—60 percent of respondents say this has occurred at their current job. Less common is the introduction of kids, though it’s still a sizable group. More than 50 percent of employees who have kids have introduced them to their boss, and 50 percent of bosses who have kids have introduced them to their employees. This display of intimacy and transparency by a boss may correlate with worker happiness. Seventy-four percent of people who describe themselves as “very happy,” in their current job, have met their boss’s significant other.

Finally, while it’s certainly no requisite part of having a healthy relationship with your boss—and in some workplaces it may be frowned upon—it’s a natural instinct to give your boss a gift now and again. Of our respondents, 1 in 3 say they have purchased a gift for their current boss. 

Drilling down into further detail, we conducted a Google search trend analysis across the country to see in which states people were most likely to be found shopping for a boss. Looking at indicative search terms like, “gifts for boss,” “gifts for manager,” and “Bosses Day gifts,” we identified spots in the US where search volume per capita is highest and lowest. Delaware, New Jersey and Texas topped the list as most appreciative of bosses, while residents in Alabama, Mississippi and Oregon are least inclined to gift their bosses. Be sure to check out the map above to see how your state measures up!

Methodology: In June 2018, our team surveyed 3,000 Americans who are currently employed full-time. The pool of respondents represents twenty-one industries, all 50 states, and ages ranging from 21 to 68.