5 Tips for When You Become Your Friends’ Boss

One thing that makes life bearable at work is being able to work with people you really like, people whom you consider friends.

Then comes the day when your boss tells you that you’ve been named the manager over the people who have seen you tipsy on strawberry margaritas. These are the people you count on to tell you there is spinach stuck in your teeth before a meeting and give you a heads up when the office bore is headed your way.

And now you’re supposed to boss them around?

Your first thought may be that you can make this work. After all, the people who are really your friends will stay your friends even if your title changes, right?

Well, in a word…no.

While they may initially tell you they’re thrilled you got the job, the reality is they may be less than joyous the first time you offer performance feedback or – gasp! – criticize something they do. All this can set off feelings of jealousy, betrayal, bitterness and lots of snark around the water cooler.

Of course, you can bet these same people won’t hesitate to ask a favor – time off for a long weekend when they’ve used all their vacation time or a request that you to cover for them when they’re late on a deadline. But the minute you give in to such a request, you’re going to be seen as playing favorites and undermine your ability to lead.

In other words, you can’t maintain the same relationship with these people that you once did. If you can’t bear to give up those friendships, then maybe you need to reconsider the job.

When you become a manager, you need to redefine the relationships with your friends. Here’s how to start off on the right foot:

1. Be fair.

Meet with each person privately and get a clear picture of what each person does. Even if you think you know, let the person explain it to you so you can evaluate if the work load is fairly distributed.

2. Button your lip.

This is a chance for employees to feel they are being heard by the new boss (that’s you). Let them know that anything they share will be kept in confidence, because some employees may be concerned you’ll blab what you know to your “friends.” Then, make sure you don’t even hint to others what you have learned in private meetings.

3. Break habits.

If you have always joined everyone in a nearby pub after work or chatted in the break room, change your habits. This is where you start to physically put distance between you and your workplace buddies so that they can make the mental transition. This may be a painful step for you, but remember that when you accept the management job you have agreed to manage these workers – and that also means you’re willing to fire someone if needed.

4. Stay friendly.

Just because you’re the boss now doesn’t mean you close your office door and avoid talking to anyone. On the first day, call everyone together and tell them that while they may be anxious about having you as a new boss, you’re anxious as well. Tell them the qualities you believe you possess that can be put to good use and that your door is always open to listen to their concerns. And then make sure it is.

5. Find a mentor.

Whether it’s in your own company or someone you’ve connected with via LinkedIn, find a seasoned management professional to help you navigate this new job. Join professional associations to help you make new connections as you develop your management skills.

It’s difficult to realize you will have to give up some friendships to accept a new job. But remember that if you don’t fully embrace your new role and end up giving mixed signals to those above and below you, it could jeopardize your ability to move into new challenges in the future.

Anita Bruzzese

Anita Bruzzese is a syndicated columnist for Gannett/USA Today on workplace issues and the author of “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy.” She has been on the Today show, and quoted in publications such as O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, Self.com and BusinessWeek.com. Her website, 45things.com, is listed on the Forbes top 100 websites for women.

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