When Friends Become Bosses: Here’s How to Make It Work

When Friends Become Bosses: Here’s How to Make It Work

Most of us spend at least half our waking hours at work during our workweek, so it’s not a surprise if we wind up developing close friendships with our colleagues. Having friends at work can make the workday more pleasant and even more productive, fostering a sense of comradery that benefits the organization as well as the individuals involved.

But being pals with your co-workers isn’t without its struggles – for instance, someday, one of the BFFs in question might get promoted and become the boss. When that happens, things can get complicated. A little self-examination and preparation ahead of time can help both the newly minted boss and the report protect their careers and their personal relationships.

What To Do When Your Friend Becomes Your Boss

Be honest with yourself about how you feel.

Before the org chart solidifies, engage in some rigorous self-examination. How do you feel about working for your friend? Are you jealous of their good fortune, nervous about how your personal history will affect your working relationship, or concerned that others might perceive you both negatively in some fashion because your friendship is common knowledge?

You might not act on any of these feelings, but being aware of the pitfalls that lay before you will help you to treat your friend and colleague respectfully, while also understanding what you need from your career in order to be fulfilled.

In some situations, you might decide that you’d prefer not to work for your close friend, and ask to be assigned to another manager, but beware: fulfilling requests like these might go against policy or be impractical, and regardless of the results, your friend might find out and be hurt. If you go this route, make sure you speak with your friend first. Which brings us to our next point…

Don’t set your friend up to fail.

If you decide to request a new manager – or switch to another team altogether – don’t let your friend find out through the office grapevine. You don’t need to get super in-depth or make it seem like you’re fishing for reassurances, but if your relationship is built on trust, only honesty will sustain it.

Separate work and home.

One of the toughest things about reporting to a friend is that you know a lot about each other. Working together in this new way means engaging in a bit of selective amnesia while you’re at the office. If your friend takes a day off, and you know it’s because she’s got a dermatology appointment for a weird rash, for example, that’s friend-knowledge – don’t tell your non-friend co-workers.

Also, understand that your friend/boss will have to be careful about maintaining appearances. He or she can’t seem to favor you. So don’t be offended if their tone shifts slightly at work to a more professional one.

When You Become the Boss, and Your Friend Reports to You

Set ground rules together.

Manager-managee relationships can go bad in many ways, but the worst is when they become adversarial, me versus you. To prevent that, bring your friend and colleague into the discussion of how to avoid issues in your working relationship, right off the bat.

Maybe you’ll decide not to discuss personal stuff at work (a good idea for most of us, regardless of the management structure in place). Perhaps you’ll change the method by which you communicate, moving certain discussions to email or messaging applications, where you can see your decisions in black and white, instead of making informal agreements verbally. Maybe you’ll make a rule that office stuff stays at the office, so that you can still enjoy your Saturday morning Pilates classes without strife.

It doesn’t really matter what you decide, as long as you set boundaries that make you both comfortable – and do it together, so that it’s clear that you’re on the same team.

Don’t abuse your power.

This should go without saying, but just in case: do not lord your position of authority over your friend and co-worker. It will cause understandable resentment, and totally undermine both your professional and personal relationships.

Understand that things might change … for a little while, at least.

One of the toughest things about becoming the boss is that no one likes the boss (at least, not all of the time). You’ll be the one to set the goals and follow up on progress and otherwise keep things on track. Remember that it’s not your reports’ job to like you, just as it’s not your job to be liked.

Be respectful, listen more than you speak, and think about what’s best for the company, your team, and your colleagues. Things might get weird for a while, but if you’re fair – and if your friend is truly a friend – you’ll recover.

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  • May 23, 2022