Skip to main content

When a Friend Becomes Your Boss (or Vice Versa)

When a Friend Becomes Your Boss (or Vice Versa)

By Margaret Steen, for Yahoo! HotJobs

With demanding work schedules and long commutes, it's no wonder that many workers make friends with their coworkers. But these friendships can be jolted by workplace changes, including promotions.

When you become your friend's manager -- or your friend becomes yours -- it changes not only your working relationship but also your friendship. Experts offer four helpful tips for navigating this complicated territory.

Acknowledge the Change

The new manager will have access to business-related information that can't always be shared. And it may no longer be appropriate for you to gossip about coworkers like you used to.

"There are new boundaries about what you can talk about and share," says Nancy K. Schlossberg, Sarasota, Florida-based co-principal of TransitionWorks and author of Overwhelmed: Coping with Life's Ups and Downs.

If you're the new boss, "you control some resources that might go to your friend," Schlossberg says. And if your friend got a promotion you had been hoping for, "you might feel angry and resentful."

"There's an elephant in the room when this happens," Schlossberg says. "Let's make it explicit."

Find Others to Talk To

Even though you and your coworker can remain friends, you will lose parts of your old relationship -- and you need to find a way to replace the support you used to get from sharing secrets with your friend, or complaining about the boss together.

"One of the strategies is to develop some support systems with people in a similar role in other organizations," Schlossberg says. Professional associations can be a good way to do this.

If a friend becomes your boss, assess and talk through your feelings about the change -- with someone else, suggests Yvonne Blockie, a career counselor in San Jose, California. "Am I feeling positive? 'She really deserves the promotion -- how can I support her?' If I feel negative, where are my negative feelings coming from?" 

Discuss It with Your Friend

It may help to talk with your friend about the way your relationship has changed. What you say depends on a lot of factors -- which of you is the new boss, whether you're genuinely happy about the situation, how close your relationship was before the promotion. In a few cases, it may be more productive to keep quiet.

If you are happy for your friend-turned-boss, Blockie suggests saying so. "You might even say, 'I realize that as a manager now things may change a little bit, but we've been friends, and I think the important thing is that we support each other. I'm really here to support you and help you be successful,'" Blockie suggests.

Be Optimistic

Things may turn out better than you expect. Marianne Adoradio, a career counselor in Silicon Valley, once became the supervisor of some friends who had been her peers. She discovered that her friends were delighted at the change -- they expected her to be a more supportive boss than their previous one.

"You have to separate the friendship from what you have to do as a boss," Adoradio says. "As long as they stay respectful, they might be surprised at how well it can go."


Education programs to fit your profession