When Your Former Peer Becomes Your Manager

One day you’re working happily together as coworkers, and the next day your peer has been promoted and is now your manager. How do you adjust to the change?

When a peer becomes your manager, the relationship needs to change. Here’s what you can do on your side to keep awkwardness to a minimum and work together harmoniously.

1. Realize that the relationship needs to be different now. Previously, you might have had frequent lunches or happy hours together before, or gossiped about coworkers. In this new configuration, you’ll both be better off with a bit more professional distance. You can absolutely still have a warm, friendly relationship, but – as the person charged with evaluating your performance – your former peer needs to have different boundaries now.

2. Fight any feelings of resentment. It’s possible that you’ll have moments of resenting that your former peer is now the person telling you what to do, evaluating your work, and making decisions about your raise or your project assignments. That’s especially true if you wanted the promotion that she ended up getting. But resentment won’t change the situation and can negatively impact how you’re perceived at work, so do everything you can to resist the feeling. If you truly can’t get past it, you might be better off transferring to another team or thinking about moving on – because open resentment will be bad for your professional standing and ultimately your career.

3. Rethink your social media settings. You might have been Facebook friends when you were peers. But now that she’s your boss, do you want her to have access to the same information as previously? Maybe you’re unlikely to post anything that would cause problems, but it’s worth a moment of thought about whether you want to change your privacy settings to have more of a boundary between what you post on social media and what your boss sees. For instance, if you call in sick one day, do you want her to be in the awkward position of having seen on Facebook that you were out late with friends the night before?

4. Don’t assume that you’ll get special treatment because of the previous relationship. It can be easy to assume that your former peer will cut you slack on things like coming in late or complaining in front of her about another team, but you’ll put her in a tough position by assuming that. Instead, treat her like you would any other manager and don’t assume the previous roles of conduct between you still apply. That doesn’t mean that you need to become a different person with her (and in fact you shouldn’t); it just means to be thoughtful about the fact that you roles are different now.

5. Don’t worry if things feel a little awkward at first. It’s normal for both of you to feel a little awkward about the change in your relationship. If you roll with it and try to minimize any weirdness on your own side, it will probably pass quickly. Depending on your relationship, it could even be helpful to tell her explicitly that you know things will need to change, and that you’re okay with that.






Alison Green

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.

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  • http://heymalc.com/ Malc Simmonds

    It must be a huge change when this happens. I’ve been my own boss for 30 years, but I know we are very aware of the changing dynamic if someone in my company changes their job role. One to ones are a good time to explore these issues.

    [Reply]