I’m becoming my friend’s boss — do things have to change?

A reader writes:

My boss is leaving and I’m about to be promoted into her position, managing our team. I’m very excited about it and confident I’ll be able to do the job well, except that I’m not sure what it will mean for my friendship with one of my coworkers.

Currently “Casey” and I are peers. We both started working here about three years ago, and we’ve become pretty good friends in that time. We talk about work and our personal lives, text a fair amount, and generally know a lot about each other. Pre-Covid we got lunch together all the time and went out for drinks together every month or so. Neither of us have ever had any supervisory authority over the other, so all this has always been fine. When I was applying for my boss’s position, I knew it might change things with Casey if I got the job but I figured we would work it out somehow.

Now, though, I’m worried about how exactly how to do that. I’ll be managing Casey and three other people. I get along well with the other three, but I wouldn’t say they’re outside-of-work friends in the way she is. I’m not worried that I’ll favor Casey, but I am worried that they might think I will. If it matters, so far they’ve all said nice things about my promotion. (But I also know they would probably do that no matter what they really thought – who’s going to tell their new boss they’re apprehensive about working for her?)

I also know that having Casey report to me will change our friendship, but I’m not sure exactly what that should look like. I asked my boss who’s leaving, and she said it’s not realistic to expect to have the same relationships once I’m in charge. I get that in theory … but it feels like Casey and I are both mature enough that we can stay friends without it causing problems. I know I can’t give her special treatment (nor would I want to) and I don’t think she would expect it. Am I off-base in thinking we can stay friends?

I’m especially worried because Casey and I haven’t talked about this yet, and I don’t know if she’s assuming everything will stay the same.

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

{ 154 comments… read them below }

  1. Lucious*

    Being the boss by nature brings in a power disparity that will color the friendship. Every social interaction on their part will now have to be filtered through the lens of “…and they’re my boss”. That’s not a fair position to put a friend in, leaving them self-censoring or wondering if what they’ll do out of the office will have consequences on Monday.

    Further, the appearance of bias is just as bad as actual bias. Even if the LW doesn’t allow the friendship to impact workplace decisions, what happens if they reward their friend at the office? It may be a duly earned reward given with no bias , but the coworkers won’t see it that way.

    1. Artemesia*

      Which is why, not only does the OP have to have this talk with the friend and cut back on social life with her and social media with her, but steps need to be taken to make clear to the rest of the office that this has been done.

      I am not sure how to tactfully do this — but the other team members need to be aware. Maybe it is a joke about not seeing Casey’s facebook anymore — maybe it is a one time statement that is more generic about not being social friends with team members that covers everyone, but obviously Casey more so. It is awkward when a peer becomes boss and that might be the frame — everyone is going to feel awkward about a former peer in this role so addressing THAT with the implications for Casey just a sidenote that doesn’t have to be spoken explicitly to the team but is clear.

      1. Hazel*

        And please be sure to talk about this with your friend! I was in this situation many years ago, and the person who was my good friend all of a sudden started relating to me like I was just an employee. I completely understand the need for the relationship to change, but don’t spring it on me without a conversation.

      2. DC Cliche*

        Ehhhhh….I think we might be over-indexing a bit. It’d be one thing if Casey had been in her wedding/there were photos posted of it on the intranet, but if you’re going out to lunch regularly, and that visbily stops, I’m not sure you need to make an announcement. I have no idea which colleagues of mine are grabbing drinks after work with each other, nor do I care. They don’t know that a coworker and I meet up for training runs (we’re both active runners) when it’s not a global pandemic. And after the past year — you shouldn’t have the relationship be overly familiar, but I also can’t imagine it’s top of mind enough right now to say: “Casey and I used to get drinks and gossip about the Accounting team, but I trust that would stop.” If the friendship was visible enough that people thought it would be a problem it would have been raised in the promotional conversations.

        1. allathian*

          Oh, I don’t know. The LW wrote in and I read it as hoping that they could still remain friends. Alison’s answer was really good.

  2. Keymaster of Gozer*

    The friendship will certainly have to be put on hold for however long you’re in a position of power over your friend. I’m sorry.

    1. Threeve*

      And I would add: it’s okay to be sad about it! Making friends as an adult can be hard, so giving one up, even if they’re just a work-friend, is not a small thing. If it leads to you having some bittersweet feelings about your promotion, that doesn’t make you unprofessional or immature–that’s totally normal.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Very true!
        I’m very good friends with an ex boss of mine. We did make the mistake of being close while he was still my boss and it caused a LOT of problems. Mostly because I’m female and a woman being friendly a lot with any bloke where I worked then was seen as ‘they’re totally having it off/an affair’.

        (No, we weren’t. But the rumours were damaging both our careers at one point)

      2. Jack Straw*

        +100

        I found myself feeling so much sadness for the loss of a friend while reading the letter.

  3. Anon for this*

    I learnt this the difficult way. My organisation had an opening, and I invited one of my dearest friends to apply. She got the job, and we worked alongside one another for five years and then socialised outside of work hours, which was lovely. Then I abruptly got promoted and she didn’t, and I became the boss of 11 people, including my friend and several colleagues we had worked with to various extents. Immediately it was apparent that my friend’s work was not on the same level as her 10 peers’. This was a terrible shock to me; I’d thought the world of her! Not only that, but this was pulling almost the whole team down. 3 of the others had figured out the problem but none of them had said anything. They were going about quietly fuming, and one had stopped communicating with my friend altogether. Another 2 or 3 had been picking up the slack without realising why their workloads were increased. I ended up having to talk to my friend about why the tier above me wanted to fire her, and her response made it clear that she had been utterly unaware. It very much took its toll on our friendship, I’m afraid.

    1. Artemesia*

      What terrible management before you that she was the weak link and didn’t realize it.

      1. Anon for this*

        It’s true. Everyone was way too nice about it, saying they didn’t want to hurt her feelings.

    2. Koalafied*

      Yes, saying you won’t let your friendship affect the working relationship or vice versa is much easier said than done. It’s not just a matter of willpower or discipline that you can do as long as put your mind to it. Relationships are fundamentally about feelings between people! Not just a majority but a great majority of people will struggle to compartmentalize their feelings enough to have two different relationships with someone, one only influenced by your personal interactions and one only influenced by your work interactions.

      If someone is overly needy, or unreliable, or causing problems for you in some way, you can’t just turn off feeling that way about them outside of work, and you also can’t just turn off how you feel about them outside of work when trying to address any of those things. Even if you can succeed in your actions being complete neutral, it’s going to tear you up inside in the process.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, this. I’ve never been able to understand how mom & pop businesses make it work. Yet many do. Some manage to keep working together and running a thriving business even when they get a divorce!

  4. Person from the Resume*

    Talk to Casey now. Start with what Alison said, but be more explicit. I don’t feel comfortable having one-on-one lunches or drinks after work with you any more since it could look like I’m favoring you. We should probably stop texting (this assumes that you don’t text you other new reports) and discussing our personal lives in order to draw a more professional line.

    Basically the boundaries should be how you treat your other coworkers, soon to be reports.

    It doesn’t sound like you and Casey were BFFs or even that you hung out together much outside work so both of you should have other friends to pick up the slack.

    1. Lunch Eating Mid Manager*

      Yes, all of this. Sounds like you and Casey were more friendly coworkers as opposed to friends who also work together. If she is a decent coworker, she’ll get it, and this will preserve the friendship after one of you moves on from this organization.

  5. WellRed*

    ….. Oh, sorry. I was reliving the cringefest that was the Valentine’s mixer letter. Yeah, sorry, got to back burner this friendship, which is a bummer. It’s harder to make friends as an adult so it’s hard to lose one, but your job will be so much easier (I know this is a rerun, so if OP is actually seeing this, do update!).

  6. SherBear*

    My prior ‘work husband’ is now my manager – no one in our department ever refers to us as that anymore because of the optics. Our relationship has absolutely shifted a bit as it should when a peer becomes a manager! I was asked if I wanted to be managed by my mentor instead but I declined as it made more business sense to stay with my ex work husband. But no, you absolutely cannot maintain the same friendship and need to be very careful with optics.

    1. FYI*

      I sort of wish this “work husband / work wife” language would disappear. It seems … problematic for a host of reasons.

      1. Lunch Eating Mid Manager*

        I wouldn’t use the term at my actual workplace, but in the context of this blog, it is a useful shorthand so that we all know this is your closest colleague, who you value as a person and a coworkers.

        1. Lunch Eating Mid Manager*

          I actually did slip up and use the phrase at my workplace a year or so ago. My boss “Fergus” (who I am very close with) and I were both at a meeting with a contractor who was acquainted with my husband. As everyone was gathering up their stuff and chatting at the end of the meeting, the contractor said to me, “How is Fergus doing?” Confused I said, “He’s… right here?” The contractor laughed and said, “Oh, I meant your husband, um [blanking on his name]”. I laughed merrily and said, “Oh, you mean my actual husband, Frederick! Fergus is just my work husband!” Crickets all around. #winning

        2. Jack Straw*

          Using it here isn’t doing anything more than perpetuating the use of it. There are LOTS of shorthand phrases that we could use but no longer do because they are problematic: white trash, retard, pickaninny, lame, tranny, gyp, work wife.

      2. Alexis Rose*

        I think the conditions in which a true friendship would be most likely to survive a boss-direct report relationship would be if the boss had no other direct reports. I know two people who were real BFFs and successfully maintained their friendship through a boss-report relationship and after. There certainly may have been a conflict of interest, but they were actually the only two employees located at their satellite office so it was less likely to create ill will among coworkers.

        1. Lunch Eating Mid Manager*

          Great point. That is a different dynamic, certainly prone to its own dysfunction, but not the resentful peer colleagues.

          1. Janet Pinkerton*

            I have a very strongly held belief that you should never manage your closest work friend. It’s the pits.

        2. MCMonkeybean*

          Still seems like a bad idea, but yeah at least in that case it does seem like all the risk is pretty much just to themselves and their own relationship rather than potentially causing issues with other people in the office.

  7. Hotdog not dog*

    It can be put on hold and successfully resumed- I had exactly that scenario several years ago. We had a heart to heart conversation about dialing back and being professionals first. It wasn’t always easy, but then later she transferred to a different part of the company and we resumed our friendship. I currently work at a different company altogether and she is retired, and we’re still friends. Just looking forward to when that means going out for a nice lunch (or anything, really!) instead of just phone calls and texts!

    1. SaintLucysEyes*

      I’m so glad your friendship survived the change. OP should keep in mind that limiting the friendship now might be what allows it to survive in the longterm.

  8. TimeTravlR*

    I know it doesn’t work for everyone but my former boss and I were friends and not just friendly. I knew her before I took the job. Originally she was my boss and then was promoted to be my grandboss. It worked because if we went to lunch together, she made it a point to have lunch with others on the team also. Sometimes all of us at once (expense accounts are a thing there). We also both had enough sense to be discreet and not let everyone know we were friends. I didn’t hang out in her office all day. Most days I might not even see her!. It can work. But it takes both parties being professional and discreet.

    1. LDN Layabout*

      The problem is, if you’re in this situation, unless people are willing to tank their careers or they’re angry enough that it bleeds out without them realising it, you’re not likely to know whether it ‘works’ or not.

      I hated the buddy buddy relationships going on in my old team and it was ridiculously clear if you were friends or in a relationship with one of the in-group you got special treatment – but anyone with eyes could see that complaining would lead nowhere.

      1. Anon for this*

        Yeah, one of my coworkers was super tight with our supervisor, and it was so obvious and awful. The supervisor got a new job a while ago, but somewhat recently, the coworker went there as well, again under the supervisor. I’m just glad I’m not in that environment with them.

      2. Esmeralda*

        Yep. You think it worked because you were discreet and no one knew. In fact, people did know but were smart enough not to say anything to you or the boss.

        Like affairs at work. People know who is boinking whom.

        1. allathian*

          Not necessarily. In a big organization, people can be married without it becoming common knowledge.

          I’d been working here for almost 5 years when I learned that one of our department heads (she) was married to our head janitor (he). Nobody would have guessed because they had completely separate jobs and would almost never even be in the same room together, and unlike some married couples who work there, they rarely went to lunch together.

          When we had our last organizational reform a few years ago, a unit from another agency was integrated into our organization. One of the newcomers, a woman in her 60s who seemed a lot younger than she was because she looked fabulous and took great care of herself and had tons of energy, made a joke during our coffee break about going to a meeting to be “harassed by X” again. She meant it as a joke, but it rather bombed. Everyone looked awkward. When everyone else left to go back to work, I told her that X’s wife was sitting at the same table with us and the newcomer was mortified. X was a handsome man who also looked a lot younger than he was, and while I wouldn’t say he was flirty, he was always very pleasant to talk to. I heard later that the newcomer had gone straight to X’s wife and apologized. The wife was apparently OK with it, at any rate I saw them often go to lunch together after that. Now both the “newcomer” and X have retired.

    2. Blandings*

      Yeah, sorry, but no. As someone in that friendship you are by definition not the right person to judge. And your boss/friend was deeply and alarmingly unprofessional in continuing to be friends with you, and is not a good boss. The fact that you a) can’t see how wrong this was, and b) are defending it here, demonstrates a worrying lack of judgement and good sense.

      OP, you don’t want to be this person’s boss, or put your employee in this person’s position. You both deserve better, and your other employees especially deserve better. Be better.

        1. Putting the "pro" in "procrastinate"*

          This is exactly why one should never be in the position of managing one’s friends.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Then you need to turn down the promotion because you have a conflict of interest. You can’t do both; it’s one or the other, but you can pick which it is.

        3. Blandings*

          Then you are both. If you are a bad boss, and you are your employee’s friend, you are not being a good friend either.

        4. Your Local Password Resetter*

          Then it’s your responsibility to not inflict your bad management on others.

      1. SaintLucysEyes*

        I have seen many, many friendships exist between bosses and their reports. Sometimes it was fine and sometimes it was a problem. Ideally, for the workplace, it wouldn’t happen; however there are many fields where it’s incredibly common and usually not an issue. I wouldn’t make a blanket statement that it’s never ok, but it is something I personally avoid because it absolutely increases the likelihood of drama.

    3. Bernice Clifton*

      I don’t mean this to be rude, but you can’t know if your discretion was effective from your colleagues’ perspective. Maybe someone saw you at lunch together or witnessed a conversation that made them figure you were more than just boss and employee. It’s not something your coworkers would have necessarily mentioned to either of you.

    4. NicoleK*

      I’m fairly certain my Boss and colleague believed they were “discreet and professional” too. But everyone knew he was the favorite and got routinely received special treatment.

    5. Nonamenoname*

      She was promoted to your grand-boss…and how do you think your direct manager felt about that? My direct report became besties with my boss – they aren’t discrete about it, which is just as well because I would rather know what I’m dealing with. It is not ok. Nothing about this is ok. My direct report is very good at their job and I have no complaints with their work – and it is STILL not ok. My boss is fine (clearly has blind spots and should know better and clearly does not) and I actually really like my boss- but I draw clearer lines than this. This whole situation is very uncomfortable and there isn’t a darn thing I can do about it.

    6. JSPA*

      This almost sounds like you transitioned from a friendship to more of a mentorship, and (at the same time) the boss made a point of also being sociable with your coworkers and open to mentoring them.

      That’s different from, “we party together.”

      I mean, the point isn’t that any evidence of friendship and all friendly feelings and mutual respect have to be extirpated from the face of the earth. The mechanics of the friendship probably have to be put on hold, with distancing in place, so long as one of you is supervising the other.

      More pressingly so if the friendship is of the “wingman/wingwoman” variety, or the 2 AM “you’re the one person I can talk to” variety, than the “we do Sunday brunch and catch up on family information once a month” variety.

      1. 3co*

        My old manager and I were pretty friendly. We’d started out as peers, but she later became the team’s manager. It transitioned pretty smoothly into a mentorship. Now that we no longer work together, we sometimes get together for lunch (pre-COVID, at least) or catch up via text. But it’s always been more of a “getting lunch once in a while” friends situation, not “holding your hair while you puke at a house party” friends.

        I think it helped that she had a lot of prior management experience–when she had to warn me about some problems I’d been having, she already had a lot of experience doing that kind of conversation. She was as tactful as possible, my feelings were still a little hurt, but we moved on without any lasting issues. I can imagine someone who was going through first-time-manager growing pains making a hash of it, though.

        It also helped that she was quite a bit older than me (her kids were only a few years younger than me). We talked more openly with each other about our families and personal life issues than we did with most other colleagues, but we didn’t have much overlap in our outside-of-work social circles or lifestyles. And even when we’d been “peers” on the org chart, we were obviously at very different stages of our careers, so there wasn’t any tension about her getting promoted over me–I was never in the running for the manager job, and I wouldn’t have wanted it either.

  9. Former call centre worker*

    I don’t really see how the letter writer can just undo being friends like that. Everyone else is still going to think they’re friends so it doesn’t avoid all of the problems that managing a friend would have. It’s not like someone who suspects the friend is getting favourable treatment is going to be placated by “we only *used to* hang out outside of work”.

    And why is the employer permitting this situation instead of having the friend report to someone else? How do they know they’ve “stopped being friends”, to the extent that that’s even possible?

    1. KayDeeAye*

      You may not be able to stop the feelings on command, but you can absolutely cut back on the friendish behavior, and that’s what she should do. Friendships need to be fed, so if you quit feeding the friendship – e.g., stop with the lunches, the drinks, the frequent texting, etc. – it will gradually become less intense.

      As for the employer, what they expect is that the OP and Casey will act professionally. You can’t just say “We will never make someone a supervisor who is friends with one or more of the people she’s going to supervise,” because…who would they be able to promote? That would take a very large percentage of internal promotions off the table, which would be bad.

      1. Momma Bear*

        Yeah, had this happen to me. It’s hard to be a friend and be managed by your friend. Put it on the back burner for a while. Had I the option, I would have asked to report to someone else/looked for a transfer, but as it was there was no opening in my skillset.

    2. Decima Dewey*

      The friendship can be maintained, but you may have to separate the roles. And coworkers who know of the friendship may assume favoritism, so be careful of the optics at work.

      When a close friend was my boss, my coworkers assumed I had an in with Maurice. Truth is, I handled him better. They’d give long explanations of why something they wanted should happen, almost guaranteeing he’d say no. I’d ask Maurice “Do you want me to do X?” If he said yes, I did it. If he said no, I dropped it.

      1. MCMonkeybean*

        I’m sorry but it sounds kind of delusional to think that being close friends is somehow unrelated to what you describe in that last paragraph, whether it is him being more likely to say yes to you because you were friends or even just you “handling him better” because of what you knew about him through your personal friendship. Seems highly likely that your coworkers probably harbored a fair amount of resentment over your relationship with him which is not good for anyone. Even if you somehow truly didn’t “have an in” with him… the fact that they thought you did is problematic enough.

        1. Decima Dewey*

          Agreed, they definitely thought that I did. Because of that, I didn’t ask all that often.

  10. Real Groove*

    This is something I’m trying to navigate right now. When my former boss took a new job at a different organization, I was promoted to her old position she and I became fast friends. We live in walking distance from each other, and she’s one of the few friends I could regularly see during the pandemic since we could hang outside. Fast forward five years – the person I hired to replace my old position recently passed away, and my friend is now working for me part-time (she’s still got her other full-time gig) since she’s got the right skills and would need minimal training/integration into our organization’s culture. So my old boss became my friend, and now I’m her boss! This will probably only be temporary on her part, but until then I’ve got to pull way back on the stupid talk, and outright stop the (legal in our state) recreational marijuana sessions…

  11. LDN Layabout*

    Even aside from the effect on others, fundamentally you cannot be a ‘good’ boss and a ‘good’ friend at the same time because friendship should be on an equal standing and a boss/employee relationship cannot be.

    In trying to keep both, you’ll fail at both.

      1. Wendell T Cooper*

        Nope. What’s unrealistic is people believing they can be perfectly neutral and equitable as a boss when their friends are involved. Those people are lying to themselves. They may have wonderful intentions – but biases are subtle and people are terrible at spotting theirs.

        1. allathian*

          Absolutely. And even if they’re the sort of rainbow unicorns who actually could do this, how are the other team members who aren’t friends with the manager going to feel? Managing people’s perceptions is the hardest in all of this, because it’s far from certain that other employees will be willing to say how they really feel about it. There’s almost always going to be resentment and in the end, something has to give.

          This is really tough because even if the manager and report can redefine their relationship to be something other than friends, it’s uncertain whether others will accept this, or whether they’ll always suspect unfair treatment when the former friend is favored over someone else.

      2. allathian*

        Nope. If you can’t pull back from a friendship, don’t apply for promotion where you might become your friend’s manager.

  12. Knope Knope Knope*

    A.) please send an update to this post, OP. I think it would be so great to hear how things changed in your own words.

    B.) A good manager provides guidance and helps their team work through problems and get things done. Sometimes you have to pass down projects or rulings you don’t personally agree with, because it’s your job. That will gone off as pushy or know it all ish from a friend. How Casey feels about you will probably change if you do your job well.

    1. Snailing*

      I’d love to hear an update as well! How OP goes about the conversation (both with Casey and other coworkers), how it played out in action, and any advice born from that, etc.

  13. TWW*

    I know it’s how it has to be, but someone having to choose between their job and their friend seems so dystopian

    1. OneOfTheseThings*

      Imagine your flaky self centred friend becoming your manager and applying their flaky self centred ways to your working relationship. It wasn’t long before I requested a new manager, and the friendship ended not long after.

    2. SaintLucysEyes*

      I agree. I personally avoid developing friendships with anyone who reports up to me, even though it is incredibly common in my workplace. That said, prioritizing the concerns of your workplace over your personal relationship is far from a universal value. It makes me sad that in our culture it’s so widely accepted that your work is the center around which you arrange the rest of your life.

      1. LDN Layabout*

        Concerns of your workplace also involves your colleagues though. It’s not evil capitalism vs. your friends, it’s also knowing that your friendship is likely to negatively impact people who can’t avoid it.

        1. SaintLucysEyes*

          Many things negatively impact your coworkers, like having a family or calling out sick. It’s a value judgement as to whether it’s worth it to you to do those things even though it will negatively impact your coworkers. I personally don’t cultivate friendships with direct reports or even coworkers generally, but I also acknowledge that it’s possible for people to prioritize a friendship over the considerations of their workplace. That may negatively impact their coworkers or it may not, but so do many other things in peoples lives.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            That’s really not the same thing. In this case, we’re talking about fundamental conflicts of interest with the job you’re asking to take on — like creating a situation where colleagues may not feel comfortable coming to you about problems with the friend (including for serious things like harassment). You really do need to turn down a position of authority if you have conflicts of interest that would harm other people.

            1. SaintLucysEyes*

              I think my feeling on this are colored by the fact that in my specific industry and company it’s practically impossible for managers to avoid managing people they have longstanding personal relationships with. We are generally not expected to sever these friendships when our reporting relationship changes, and I see it working and not working everyday. Although I personally have avoided forming friendships in my workplace for all the reasons you describe, it definitely make me an outlier among my coworkers. In the type of white collar professional jobs that Ask a Manager usually covers it is certainly easier to maintain the boundaries you describe, and do as you say and turn down a promotion if it will create a conflict of interest.

          2. Your Local Password Resetter*

            But you can’t decide to not get sick or not have family.
            And you have the option of rejecting your promotion.

            If you take the promotion and keep the friendship, then you are making a concious decision to put your personal friendship over the wellbeing of the people you now have a lot of power over. And that’s just a really bad idea.

    3. el tea*

      I understand why the general theme of these responses is what it is, but I have a very positive experience of being promoted and becoming the boss of a good friend. Both our professional and personal relationships got stronger.

      The problem people seem to have is one of perception.. that the manager will be seen to favour the friend. I never had that problem because I was respected by my colleagues.. they believed me to be fair and never got a reason to question that.

      I’m conscious that there might have been fears/concerns I wasn’t privy to.. but I had that job for many years and whilst there was plenty of drama in the company, I never once heard anyone suggest the nature of my friendships with people ‘below’ me in the org chart impacted my professional decisions.

      So I do think good managers and good team members can navigate this, but a lot depends on the characters of the people involved and, perhaps, the type of manager someone intends to be. Much comes down to whether people in the team respect and support he manager or not.. if they do then friendships ought not be an issue, if they don’t then anything that can be made an issue will be, including any personal relationships.

      1. allathian*

        It’s not about respect, it’s about trust. These aren’t synonymous. You got lucky, your reports trusted you to be fair and you didn’t abuse their trust. Respect can be performative and given to anyone who’s higher in the org chart because of their position. Trust has to be earned even or especially when you’re a manager. It worked in this case, but it’s a rare thing indeed and the whole situation is best avoided. In most cases it will not work. And how do you know that none of the drama in the company was related to the friendships you or other managers in your organization had with people lower down on the org chart? The problem is, you can’t know for sure even if you haven’t been told. Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence in this case.

        Personally, no matter how good a manager was otherwise, I’d suspect them of nefarious motives if they were friends with a report. This is such a flagrant breach of professional boundaries that I don’t think I could work for such a manager. Workplace friendships across organizational levels are inappropriate and unprofessional. That’s my categorical opinion and I’m sticking to it.

      2. MCMonkeybean*

        I’m sure it is true that lots of people manage it successfully, but it is also true that the people in your shoes just cannot have an honest assessment of whether or not it was really okay. It is always possible that people did think that you favored the friend but never said anything to either of you about it.

  14. Nia*

    I am always baffled by the advice given to people in this situation to ‘just stop being friends.’ If you’re just work friends sure whatever but my actual friendships are not so shallow that I would be willing or able to put aside for a job.

    1. Generic Name*

      In this case, it sounds like they were more “work friends” in that they met at work rather than they were friends before they worked together. While I love my work friends, I know I’d have to back away from the friendship if I ever had to manage any of them. It really does suck. The alternative is if the friendship is so mutually valued and important in your life- much in the way a romantic relationship is mutually valued and important- someone would need to find a different job.

    2. Despachito*

      Nia, I am wondering the same thing myself.

      Good friends are so few and far between that I would be never willing to give one of them up because of work.

      For me, there is a big difference between a friend (= a person I know for many years, spent a lot of time with them and their families, helped each other in difficult situations, had a common hobby and see each other even after we stopped doing this hobby) and a good acquaintance (= a person I am friendly with, have common interests to speak about, go to lunch with, feel good in their presence but if we stop doing the common hobby/work, we will probably not see much of the other one anymore).

      I would be definitely able to cool down the relationship with an acquaintance because of my job, but never that with a friend.

      If I ever happened to work with my friend, I would probably try to maintain appearances at work (not being excessively friendly around other coworkers, and keep our social life strictly outside the workplace).

      But as I am writing this I realize that I would actually not WANT to work with a lot of my friends because I know our personnalities are so different that it makes us blend very well as friends, we are able to cooperate very well in terms of hobbies, but to work in an actual job for money would be probably end in a disaster.

      1. BelleMorte*

        The problem here is what if you have to discipline your friend, or what if you have to lay them off or fire them?

        Can you truly do that neutrally?

        If it was between your friend and Bob the Llama wrangler who both have similar experience, roles, and performance, are you honestly telling me you won’t be able to lean towards saving your friend over Bob?

        I’ve been in work where the boss was friends with a co-worker, it’s miserable. Even if they act as if they are being discreet, they aren’t. They will always be giving the perception of favourism, and the lower level employee will always have their career tainted by that favourism. “he only got that project because he’s buddy buddy” (ignoring his own merit), “she got that promotion because she talked boss into it at wine night (regardless of whether they talk work or not.

    3. TWW*

      In the case of a close friendship that you can’t put aside, the only option is to not accept that promotion. The same as if you were siblings or something like that.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s totally fine to make that call! But then you can’t accept a promotion managing one of them. It’s like any other conflict of interest. (And presumably you wouldn’t say, “I won’t give up my spouse for my job” if someone said you can’t manage your spouse — you would accept you can’t have that particular job.)

      1. Nia*

        So long as all relationships are disclosed to the hiring committee beforehand there’s nothing wrong with taking the job. If they aren’t concerned then why should you be.

          1. Nia*

            In my experience it doesn’t effect anything. I work IT for an insurance company, our CFO who retired last year is married to one of our agents. She was(still is) absolutely given preferential treatment because of it. It was made clear to me that her requests/problems were always the highest priority and to avoid telling her no even when we would have told any other agent no. They even opened a new office in a location we did not need one specifically for her. All of that effected the CFO’s reputation not one bit. You’d have thought the sky was falling when he announced his retirement. People believed that man walked on water even with all the perks he acquired for his wife.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              That’s one situation. There are loads of others in this comment section with different outcomes. But yes, you will not get every single possible bad consequence in every situation; you may just get some. In this case, it sounds like it massively affected the experience of others on that team.

            2. Putting the "pro" in "procrastinate"*

              I … don’t think this is proving your point. What you’ve described here is that the CFO’s preferential treatment of their spouse had a GIGANTIC NEGATIVE AFFECT on everyone around. I’m baffled that you can say this situation “doesn’t affect anything.”

              1. Nia*

                I’m not saying it didn’t effect everyone else negatively, I’m saying it didn’t effect his reputation. He’s completely beloved, if he interviewed for a CFO position somewhere else he’d get nothing but glowing references from my company. Now I can’t speak to what it’s done to his wife’s reputation but she still has her preferential treatment and she’s going to finish out her career here so it kinda doesn’t matter what it’s done to her reputation.

                1. allathian*

                  This whole situation is honestly so dysfunctional that it sounds like it’s normalized some quite atypical outcomes and behavior for you. In most places, this absolutely would not fly. If for no other reason than that people with options would go elsewhere when they saw someone get preferential treatment like that.

            3. MCMonkeybean*

              “It doesn’t affect anything.”

              “She was absolutely given preferential treatment because of it.”

              Um… these two statements are inherently incompatible.

        1. Cara*

          Because you (hopefully!) care about behaving professionally, respectfully, and ethically?

          If you don’t, well, you’re going to screw over your employees in many ways, so what’s one more I guess?!

        2. Your Local Password Resetter*

          Most hiring committee’s would be very concerned though. And the relationships would still be causing problems.

    5. SaintLucysEyes*

      It’s far from a universally held belief that your work is the most important part of your life. I’m glad you enjoy such rewarding and deep friendships.

    6. Person from the Resume*

      The solution is the then not accept the promotion (so you’re not a bad boss) or make arrangements for your friend to be managed by someone else.

      You do get to choose between the job or your friendship. Trying to do both is not professional and may be impossible.

      It does sound like this is a deep work friendship, but it’s very work centered. They had lunch often and got drinks after work sometimes. The LW didn’t mention hanging out on weekends or being over at each other’s house all the time or spouses and children also having relationship with the friend.

    7. Knope Knope Knope*

      It would also be out of your hands to a degree. Being a good manager requires you to do things that occasionally upset your employees. Sometimes it’s giving hard to hear feedback that ultimately makes them better professionally. Sometimes it’s making judgment calls that really suck for them but benefit the company or your team. Sometimes it’s passing them up for a promotion they would be great at and would advance them professionally because there is more than one way to structure a job and you decide the company benefits more from hiring externally/putting more weight on a different skill set. Sometimes it’s telling someone they aren’t getting a raise/bonus even if you personally believe they deserve it. Or a million other things that will change how your friend feels about you just by doing your job. That’s where the conflict of interest comes in.

    8. Your Local Password Resetter*

      Then you choose the friendship and reject the job! Which is a perfectly normal decision. But you can’t really have both.

    9. Koalafied*

      You don’t need to put your friends aside for a job – but you can’t have your cake and eat it too (and have other people watch you while you eat it, as Rilo Kiley would say). It’s not fair to others in the workplace to have one employee to have more access and higher esteem with the boss because of a personal relationship, when they could have had a boss who viewed everyone equally and purely on the basis of their job performance, but the boss wanted to accept the role without accepting all the responsibility that comes with it.

  15. Despachito*

    Although I think that what you say, Alison, is spot on (as usual), and I would definitely second it in the case in hand (a coworker/friend of three years) and in most cases overall, I am wondering how rare are cases when both parties are able to actually manage the changed dynamics and maintain both the friendship and the relationship boss/employee at work.

    I once witnessed a case when a manager employed a long-time family friend as their direct report (they had been close friends at least ten years prior to the employment), and it worked pretty well.

    However, they both acted very professional about that, and were able to draw a distinctive line between their “work-persona” and their “outside-work persona”. If they saw each other socially, it was strictly outside the workplace, and at work they maintained a strictly professional attitude. For a long time, their coworkers did not even have a clue they knew each other otherwise than from work, and there was definitely no favouritism as to remuneration or any other perks.

    I understand this is a very rare case and it requires high moral integrity of both parties not everyone is capable of, and the probability that this will fail is much greater than that of success. I think that although the intentions at the beginning are good, the situation is so tricky to handle that it is safer to avoid it altogether and the advice to tone down the friendship is generally precisely what has to be done. But I had to chime in and say that I saw it work at least once.

    1. SaintLucysEyes*

      I’m glad you’ve shared an example of how it could possibly work to maintain the friendship. While there are certainly workplaces where it just won’t, there are many others where it could if OP and her friends are able to maintain the boundaries you describe.

      1. Despachito*

        SaintLucysEyes, I think the key to this was

        – absolute professionalism of both of them (neither of them was a slacker and they both understood the dynamics of the relationship friend/friend and employee/boss, and were able to “switch the switch” between the two personae)
        – the fact they were very careful to keep it very low key at work, and all their social activities were performed strictly outside work

        In other words, they were very well aware of their boundaries, and I have to say that they both are one of the most mature persons I`ve met in my life.

        1. allathian*

          Yes. In spite of my categorical statement above in the thread, it can work. It’s less likely to work in a situation where a peer is promoted to manage the team they were formerly a part of, unless the manager is very clear about boundaries and the friendship is put on the back burner.

          For example, my current manager, who although she’s a first-time manager, is the best manager I’ve had at this job and possibly in my entire career, was promoted from my team. We weren’t particularly friendly when she was a peer, and once when she was going to lunch with a few of our teammates and I thought I’d join in, she was quite nasty about “you’re welcome to join us when we’re going for a team lunch, but this time I’m going to lunch with my TRUE FRIENDS.” Let’s just say that she’s learned a lot since then. Her best work friend, who was close enough to be invited to her wedding and coworkers don’t typically attend each other’s weddings here, temporarily transferred to another agency when my current manager got promoted. When her temporary assignment ended, she requested a transfer to another department entirely. I hadn’t thought of it before, but I can imagine that at least a part of why she wanted to transfer is that she doesn’t want to have a friend as her manager and she also doesn’t want to lose the friendship. Of course, the opportunities for professional development that her current job provides don’t hurt, either.

  16. KumquatOC*

    Oof. This is on my mind recently. I recently moved to the town where one of my dearest friends live (like, BFFs since childhood, godparents to their kids, etc). This is a relatively small market, only a handful of major employers in our shared field. BFF is high up the food chain in her organization – not in my sub field but there’s a real chance she may be promoted someday to exec. Do I just, like, eliminate this whole employer from my job search? Because it just wouldn’t be realistic to follow this advice if I were to be hired and she was promoted over me.

    1. Sara without an H*

      I’ve also lived in small towns with one big employer. It was almost impossible to hire anybody who didn’t know other employees. Sometimes they were relatives.

      I wouldn’t eliminate Large Employer from consideration, but don’t apply for any job that would report directly to your friend or to one of her direct reports. If you can find something in another division, or something where she’s more than two levels away in the chain of command, you could probably make it work.

      1. Coffee every morning*

        My work is very similar – we live in a town where many people went to high school together and have been friends for years. A lot of people worked together in a call center that has since closed and have remained good friends since. It then becomes one of those situations where “Oh, you’re looking for a job? My department is hiring! You should apply.” We end up with many employees who are friends with the supervisor or with the manager. I think generally people are treated equally but you can definitely see inconsistences at times. It kind of makes it impossible for me to imagine a workplace where it is uncommon to be friends with a manager or a supervisor.

  17. Lacey*

    I sympathize with the OP, this would be heartbreaking if you’re close.

    But, I never understand why people think they won’t have trouble giving their friend honest feedback. I know I pull my punches with my friends and people consider me to be pretty bluntly honest.

    1. Knope Knope Knope*

      Yes, and even if OP can give honest feedback she can’t guarantee her friend will still feel the same about her. What happens when that feedback is “actually you’d be perfect for this life changing promotion but we can get someone good enough for less money and that’s what I choose to do to make budget this year. But I’m really sorry.” Friendships can’t always bounce back from the decisions managers have to do.

      1. fposte*

        And sometimes the challenge will be what you *can’t* tell your friend, like you knew the layoff was coming.

        1. Knope Knope Knope*

          Yeah great point. Sometimes being a good friend and a good manager are just truly incompatible. But you can be a good manager and build a trusting relationship with your staff that preserves your ability to make the choices you need to make.

  18. twocents*

    I was on a team once where it split in two. I had two close friends: one went to be the manager of the new team and one went as an employee. That’s how manager learned that employee routinely avoided work, had patterns on calling in sick, took out personal grievances by sabotaging projects, and she had to fire him. Their friendship did not survive.

    Casey may be the best employee ever! But it’s possible that there are problems you’re unaware of or ignore because they don’t (currently) affect you.

  19. MK*

    Honestly, OP, I wish you were more worried about favouring Casey. I believe you that you have no intention of doing so, being impartial about people we are close to is incredibly difficult, and in fact only possible when you are aware of your bias and actively trying to overcome it.

    1. Delphine*

      Maybe she knows she won’t favor Casey because she’s already aware of that bias.

      1. MCMonkeybean*

        You can’t know until it happens though. Really strongly intending to remain neutral is not the same thing as knowing what you would actually do when you have to lay people off and it turns out your friend is one of the lowest performers…

  20. Seeking Second Childhood*

    This is why I have twice declined to apply for the manager’s role in my department.

  21. SaintLucysEyes*

    Allison’s advice is sound, assuming you are willing to prioritize your performance at work over your personal relationships. Some people aren’t, and I have worked in many places where people did have friendships with people who reported up to them. It’s rampant in my current workplace, and there are instances where it’s fine and instances where it’s a huge problem. If you do want to maintain this friendship while minimizing it’s impact on your work, you are going to need to have great boundaries and accept that you are dramatically increasing your risk of conflict and drama. Depending on how much you value this friendship, you might be willing to accept that risk. Following Allison’s advice and essentially ending the friendship would be ideal for your workplace, but I think it’s worth acknowledging that many people don’t prioritize workplace concerns over personal relationships in every situation.

  22. Golden Child*

    Honestly, the kindest thing you can do is pull back, remove her from social media, and treat her with the same level of kindness you will treat your other employees.

    I had a friend become my boss and it was a nightmare. In retrospect, she definitely has narcissistic tendencies, which were always there, but REALLY came out when I worked under her. She 100% favored me (I was absolutely the “golden child”.) on the team, and while I do admit that this led to certain things being easier for means I definitely benefited in some ways, it was overall terrible. Also, she was super volatile, and I definitely felt like I had to be a sycophant and 100% build her up, or else my job could be at jeopardy. Her loyalties flipped at the drop of a hat, and I was terrified of that. There were only a handful of times I stood up to her, general in defense of the scapegoat employee she treated horribly, or over really awful, prevalent issues that everyone else was afraid to bring up to her- in those moments, I used my “golden child” status to go up to bat for what was important, but it was super stressful.

    I say this not because I think you’re a narcissist who is going to be a tyrant, but because she had NO IDEA I felt like this. She genuinely thought our friendship was as strong as ever, because I was terrified to initiate distance myself. And it led to a lot of stress for me, and a lot of people hating me because of the perceived (and honestly, super real) favoritism that was at play. Once she stopped being my boss, I ended our friendship pretty abruptly, which I know to this day confuses the hell out of her. The kindest thing you can do for your friend turned employee is giving distance and professionalism.

  23. WantonSeedStitch*

    Someone I knew socially–I was friends with this person and their spouse, though not ultra-close friends–applied for and got a position on my team at work. At the time, I was on a different part of the team, and we were basically peers. Then I ended up applying for a position as the leader of the team when it opened up, making me the person’s boss. Then I subsequently was promoted again and they are now my indirect report. We are still friendly outside of work, but I don’t socialize one-one with them (or with them and their spouse) in that context. We also don’t socialize one-on-one at work (having lunch and so on). We’ll talk at parties or at work parties, but it’s also easy for me to socialize with other people at those events and not focus on them. I feel like we’ve managed to maintain good boundaries and a good professional relationship. I’m not sure this would have worked if we had been a lot closer, though.

  24. Librarianator*

    This is interesting, because I disagree on who needs to make the most change. When a good friend of mine became my boss I saw it as my job to make it so that it never appeared that she was making me a favorite. I also worked really hard to never do something she’d have to reprimand me for, but when she did, I tried to take it well. It’s definitely hard, but I wanted to support my friend, and the best way for me to do that was to never put her in a bad position.

    She probably also pulled back a little, but we still went out for drinks and spent time together. We no longer work together, but are still friends and I appreciate that we were able to do that.

    1. Pockey*

      This is definitely a great friendship and boss/coworker relationship. I also think she likely did her best not to put you in bad situations too for it to work, i.e. trying to get you to spy on coworkers and report back to her, showing you overt favoritism, etc. Definitely takes a lot of self awareness, consideration and maturity. I’m happy it worked for you guys

    2. Koalafied*

      That’s a really great and conscientious attitude that you’re to be commended for. Ideally in any situation both parties have the integrity to do what each needs to do to remain professional.

      However as a general rule, the burden of heavy lifting in an interpersonal relationship always falls on the person with more power. It’s kind of like how you shouldn’t work unauthorized overtime, but employers still have to pay you for it if you work the hours, even if they specifically told you not to. Because the employer has more power, the legal onus is on them to ensure labor laws are being followed and employees are being paid fairly, and ultimately they are the ones who are held liable if you break the law. Or how you really shouldn’t get drunk and kiss your boss at the holiday party, but it’s worse for your boss to get drunk and kiss you. The minute the boss is uncomfortable they can assert their authority and shut down the behavior, but the report doesn’t have it as easy – if they become uncomfortable they have to navigate how to extract themselves delicately without jeopardizing their relationship with someone who has a great deal of power over them.

    3. allathian*

      I’m glad it worked for you, and ideally it should always work like this. However, the onus to make the change is always, always on the manager who has more power in the working relationship.

    4. MCMonkeybean*

      The boss is the one with the power and it is their responsibility to make things work. If the employee wants to maintain a good relationship and be a good employee then yeah they should *also* work hard to keep things professional and not cause issues, but the bulk of the burden still lies with the manager always.

  25. JSPA*

    OP, a good boss does not have to be a distant boss–a boss can be an exceptional mentor. But a period of distancing is the safest and best way to reset the dynamic. (And of course, you may find out that one of your other reports is a better candidate for mentorship than your friend–and you should be open to that possibility, as well as open to developping all of your team.)

    I do think you can also be proactive in helping your friend find some other mentor, to make sure they’re not left high-and-dry (especially if you’re tentative about mentoring them from day 1, or if the feedback dynamic is strained).

  26. PersonX*

    This just happened on my husband’s team. Colleague regularly gossiped, complained, etc. to others and is now the manager of those others. Team is supposed to trust that person with their careers?

    Good times.

  27. RulingWalnut*

    2 months after I changed roles at my company, the manager transferred to my old team and my friend was promoted to become my manager. It wasn’t their fault but we never managed to really “solve” the situation and it was always awkward. When I ended up quiting a year later I didn’t even feel comfortable rating their qualities as a manager during my exit interview. Hope you have better luck than I did!

  28. ValkyriePuppy*

    Honestly, I feel like this might be… a bit much? Who is the boss supposed to be friends with at work? What if you were previously friends with at least 3 people and get promoted, then you just can’t be friends any more? I totally see why the relationship has to change, but I also think that my /friend/ ending our friendship cause they got promoted would do as much damage as them continuing to be my friend.

    I can pretty much guarantee that I would start looking for a new job if my friend-now-manager ended our friendship because I’d be so uncomfortable with being manage by someone who (a) couldn’t figure out how to be unbiased and (b) dumped me as a friend in order to be able to exercise control over my career

    1. Janet Pinkerton*

      So I’ve been in this position—I was promoted to manage my team, and I manage my four closest work friends. It’s not ending a friendship—it’s consciously withdrawing from the friendship for the duration of the work relationship so that you can be an effective boss.

      It’s honestly not terrible. I have friendly relationships with all of them still, and my work relationships with my employees who used to be my peers are getting friendlier. All of the relationships are meeting in the middle, if that makes sense. (And honestly it’s much more pleasant to manage in this sort of environment, where you know everyone on your team is on a level playing field. Favoritism sucks on either end.) I’m forming closer work friendships with my peers, to help make up for this.

      All that said, I’d recommend that you never manage your closest work friend. Keep that closest friend for yourself. It stinks to lose them, even temporarily. (My once-and-hopefully-future-work-bestie and I once almost got matching tattoos. I miss him as my friend. It’s gonna be the #1 excellent thing about either of us getting a new job.)

    2. Koalafied*

      It’s supposed to work more like an unconscious coupling than a break-up. You don’t one day up and decide you don’t like each other anymore – it’s as someone said upthread: you stop feeding the friendship and let it mellow out while you’re in an unequal power relationship.

      As for who managers are supposed to be friends with at work, well, you don’t have to have friends at work – plenty of people keep their friends and their work life separate. But if you do want to find friends at work, literally anyone else who isn’t in your reporting line is suitable. Other managers, employees in other departments.

      Not being friends with someone any longer also doesn’t mean not being friendly. You can be as friendly to them as you are to anyone else at work – you can sit and chat in the break room, ask how each other’s weekend was when you pass in the hall, tell workplace appropriate jokes to each other when settling into a meeting and waiting for everyone to arrive, and all that friendly and warm yet professional behavior.

      What you shouldn’t be doing is private texting all day and when you’re in meetings together, confessing your secrets on the phone late at night, partying together, and other things like that which ultimately add up to the difference between an acquaintance you feel positively about and an actual friend: that is, intimacy. Friendship is intimate and you can’t be in an unequal power relationship with someone in the same time you’re in an intimate relationship with them.

      If the relationship isn’t intimate than it’s more of a warm working relationship than a friendship and that doesn’t need to change.

      1. allathian*

        I have plenty of warm working relationships, but it’s been years since I last had a genuine work friend that I’d also spend time with outside of work or chat frequently with.

    3. MCMonkeybean*

      I think the fact that the change in the nature of your personal relationship with them would make you uncomfortable and want to leave is a pretty solid case for exactly why people shouldn’t be friends with their managers.

      “Who is the boss supposed to be friends with at work?” Either people that they don’t manage, or… no one. Make friends outside of work. I am friendly with all my coworkers and sometimes we would have team socials or go to lunch or whatever but I am not actually friends with anyone at the office.

  29. A Non E Mouse*

    I am having a lot of feelings about this post. A few years ago I was finally able to get a foot hold in my field because one of my best friends was able to hire me into a position doing work that was perfectly aligned with my training, expertise, and long-term career goals (and got me out of a job I was actively starting to despise). He was my boss up until recently, when he left for bigger and better things elsewhere. Despite bringing the nature of our close relationship outside of work to the attention of HR, they recommended that he still supervise me due to the way our work aligned. I raised it as an issue during the interview process because of reading all about how bosses shouldn’t be friends with their direct reports on this site!

    I think we ended up managing it as well as we could through creating pretty clear firewalls – different communication channels for different topics (chat for work; text for personal), and scaling back our out of work time (natural because we saw each other all day every day in meetings). It also took lots of dialogue and I grew in my ability to advocate what I needed at work because I was comfortable talking to him about things and I wanted to preserve our friendship so I had to deal with my work issues professionally.

    It also stunk in a lot of ways. First, as other commenters mentioned above, it introduced a power dynamic in our relationship that I resented the hell out of, and that we still haven’t quite escaped. Second, I ended up in weird interpersonal dynamics with others at work that didn’t really have anything to do with me – but were affected by our closeness. And, there are dynamics about our friendship that he inadvertently brought into our work dynamic – I tend to hang back a little socially, but am not like that at all at work — and that was hard to talk about or fix.

    Now he keeps talking about wanting to steal me from my current company to join his team at his new company. But, I am happy to have my own space and identity at work — and I don’t want to be in his shadow for the rest of my career. Obviously, I don’t have to take any job I don’t want, but I have to figure out how to tell my friend I prefer just being his friend, and not his staff member.

  30. NotSoAnon*

    So I’m probably going to be in the minority here, but I have had this exact scenario happen when I was promoted a year or two ago.

    My work friend has a daughter the exact same age as my daughter and they are best friends. In turn, work friend and I developed a strong friendship outside of work. My boss, myself, her and hr would all go to lunch together frequently (often with many others) same with drinks/dinner after work. My company is very relaxed with hierarchy and blends the lines of formality a lot. Some people love it, some not so much. As we get bigger, those lines have started to form more.

    Anywho, when I got my promotion we had already been in a somewhat supervisor/employee relationship. But once my title officially changed, I sat down with my boss and hr to ask them how they wanted me to navigate the situation. I was a new manager! Never supervised before in an official capacity. My HR director told me I needed to draw a line and stick to that line like my life depended on it. So friend and I had a meeting where we talked through the boundaries we would have to set in place. We both unfollowed each other on all social media except LinkedIn (as I did with all other staff on my team), discussed how slack/email/phone communication and dialogue would have to change, we talked through difficult feedback scenarios (honestly, this one wasn’t hard for me). We are both very blunt straightforward people and I don’t dance around issues with anyone.

    But I didn’t end the friendship with her! Another woman we are friends with got promoted (by my recommendation) out of the department and we all still hang out/see each other about once a month for coffee or drinks on a weekend. We all have a hard fast rule that we don’t discuss work AT ALL during these times. We can set up a meeting during business hours on recorded lines to discuss business.

    Now, I do understand where people hesitate. I know a lot about her that I wouldn’t know about a normal employee and vice versa. It helps in this situation that she had already been promoted to the highest level in the department other than manager prior to me starting, because there is no tension regarding her work vs. other team members because they have vastly different roles and expectations.

    I’ve had to give her some really tough feedback before, both formal feedback and on the job coaching. Those were hard but necessary and I do them with all employees as the need arises.

    It’s hard to make friends and I wasn’t willing to lose this friendship. If HR and my own boss hadn’t given it the green light I would have either stepped down (but she would have been next for the promotion so it would be the same) or we would have worked with her to see if she wanted to make a lateral transition. If she didn’t I’m not sure where we would have gone from there. It’s been over a year and the weirdness of the boss/employee relationship hasn’t gone away, but I think that’s the point. You have to constantly be mindful of it to combat implicit bias.

    1. Despachito*

      Wow, both this and A Non E Mouse`s post seems pretty impressive. I am glad to hear that there are people able to manage such a tough situation without having to give up their friendship, and I appreciate very much your honesty both in handling the situation and in speaking openly about it (and admitting the stumbling blocks it brought to you).

      1. NotSoAnon*

        I’m not going to lie, it is hard. She is an absolutely exceptional employee though and she was even when we were peers. It’s one of the things that we bonded over, because in a world of distinction to find people who you can have true honest discourse with is hard. It also helps that she is brutally honest with me. My organization firmly believes in accountability, feedback (up amd down the ladder) so it keeps me in check to regularly get feedback from all employees on their needs, goals, what’s working/what’s not, how can I get better.

        The first time I had to give her constructive feedback on a minor error we used that as building blocks/a foundation for how we would approach future, possibly more difficult, discussions. It helps a lot to have open dialogue with her and all employees about how they prefer feedback so it can be semi tailored to the individual.

        I do my best, but I’m sure I’ve stumbled along the way. All I can really hope for is to be better everyday.

        1. Despachito*

          I am even more impressed, NotSoAnon, because from what you say I can see it is not easy and makes you struggle, yet you are managing to handle it and maintain both the work and the personal relationship.

          It makes me think that if the friendship is to survive this obstacle, it requires a serious effort of both the boss and the employee (the first one has to stay fair and not favour their friend, but the second one has to be fair as well in the sense of pulling their weight and accepting that at work they have to be treated as anyone else) , and in this sense it stays a kind of a peer-to-peer dynamics (I do my part, you do yours, although our roles are different).

          But to be able to do that, I imagine both of them have to be really mature personnalities, and even then it must be a challenge. My hat off to you and your friend!

      2. anonny*

        But maybe other people in that dept would say they don’t feel comfortable approaching NotSoAnon about concerns with the friends because of their relationship. That’s something NotSoAnon wouldn’t know. This is one of those things where the friend-boss can not be considered a reliable narrator by definition (nothing personal to the O.P. of course).

        1. A Non E Mouse*

          @anonny – so true. my friend-boss supervised me (a high level individual contributor) and a much more entry level role – the roles/dynamics were different enough that I don’t think my fellow supervisee felt any weirdness. but, my former friend-boss was responsible for leading other teams of people that he did not directly supervise – and I know it was a problem for at least one co-worker. I tried, when I could, to share my insights with that co-worker so they could get the benefit of my “expertise” on friend-boss. eventually, though, their struggles to work well together ended up affecting how I saw her, and damaged the relationship on my end (not sure how she felt about it). it’s gotten easier since friend-boss left, since I don’t feel in the middle of their dynamic any more.

        2. NotSoAnon*

          None taken annony! It’s a hard line to walk. I wouldn’t personally want to go into a situation like this without a lot of planning and preparation. We were a tiny team when this started. Only three of us amd the third individual was having performance issues/on a PIP (not one I put her on, but became aware of and managed once promoted). So my team of 10 people were all hired directly by me. Since friends duties don’t directly overlap the rest of the team’s responsibilities I usually involve her in training new team members as well which opens the door for employees to have another (slightly) more senior person they can talk to. I want my department to have a very open door policy so feedback moves through the department in various ways. A lot of the time, my team feels more comfortable venting to me or to her and they are aware that she will discuss any necessary feedback with me.

          Like I said, this doesn’t work for everyone and every team. Definitely hard, but my team consistently rated the highest in our organization for employee satisfaction scores (completely anonymous other than department) which makes me really happy as a first time manager. I also try and combat any bias by having regular one on ones with all employees once a week (or try to, it’s our busy season so they sometimes are every other week) so they feel seen/have direct access to “the boss” and know they have a safe place to air any concerns.

          I am actually actively trying to help friend develop out of the department though because she has indicated she is not at all interested in management and there is no where else to move up in my department. I do this for all employees, try and find their interests, what they really excel at, then hook people up with other departments for ongoing training, mentor ship, etc so they can continue on with our company in a different role. Most people I hire are a little past entry level but are still figuring out what they want to do long term/career goals and I love that aspect of the job.

  31. Long, long time lurker*

    I feel for Casey. OP chose a promotion over a friendship. Casey has no say, loses a friend, and gets nothing. Sort of like a bad break up.

    I moved for a job and made two close friends of co-workers (weddings, baptisms, regularly going out after work/weekends). Years later one got promoted and it was devastating to lose one of my best friends. She got to dictate the terms of ending the friendship and say a good friend would be supportive of her and her career when I said that wasn’t what I choose. Ironic as she just decided we weren’t friends anymore.

    Personally that friendship meant way more to me than a career so I didn’t even apply for promotions that weren’t outside our team.

    I know it’s an old post, but if Casey isn’t as enthusiastic or supportive as you like she may be mourning the end of a friendship that ended without her input.

    1. Despachito*

      I think this is a very valid point to consider.

      Is the advice “end or at least cool down the friendship” really so universally valid? So far, we were focusing on the point of view of the new boss, but now we are hearing the other party, and it sounds very much like a betrayal and a burned bridge. I doubt that this unilaterally ended friendship, as you describe it, could be restored anytime in the future.

      Would it feel differently if the friend, instead of dictating her own conditions, sat with you to talk and draw mutual boundaries? I assume you would understand that something – at least some appearances – would have to change but my take is that the outcome – and your feelings – would be very much different if you had your say in the decision.

      And it also makes me think that if you get promoted and have two options – either follow the advice of cooling down the friendship at any cost (which can and probably will leave a bitter feeling of betrayal and irreparably damage any future prospects of renewing the friendship ), or try to mutually agree on some boundaries – which might possibly be related more to the visibility of the relationship to others than the relationship itself – why not try the second option? Even if it does not end well (and there definitely are pitfalls which have been abundantly described above), there is still a solid chance that the friendship will survive.

      1. anonny*

        Because the relationship is, as people have said above, a conflict of interest. Hiding that from others does not fix that.

      2. Roci*

        I mean, if the person accepts the promotion then either way the friendship as you knew it is over. If they give you negative feedback, now it’s “how could you say that, I thought you were my friend.” Now your friend has say on your paycheck and career.

        I agree that it’s a great point that one person is getting more out of this than another. One person gets a promotion and more power while losing (or cooling) a friendship, while the other loses a friend and gains nothing. And they may have been intentionally choosing the friendship all along.

  32. Despachito*

    I may be mistaken but I see two separate pitfalls in managing your friend:

    1. What other people think. (If they see you are too friendly, they will suspect favouritism, even if this is not the case)
    2. How you two handle the changed dynamics (having to say unpleasant things, maybe even fire the employee, and in general having to put the interests of the company above those of the friend)

    I assume the second one must be much more difficult to manage, but to be honest, I do not see such a problem in the first one which means just keep matters strictly professional at work.

    (I honestly confess that I do not have a direct experience of this at work, so I may be way off base, but I do have experience with several relationships in a long-time leisure activity when it was quite common for couples to behave in a way that during the activity in question you could hardly tell they were couples. If you were friends outside the activity, you certainly knew they were, but it did not show during the actual activity. I know the dynamics was different – it was a peer-to-peer relationship and not one of boss/employee, but my point is that it is perhaps not so difficult not to give away that you have a lot more in common with a certain person than with other people).

    1. anonny*

      Hiding a conflict of interest does not make the conflict go away. It just drives it underground where it’s harder for people to assess how bias might be playing out.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          In my experience, it’s very unlikely there won’t be some form of bias that plays out, even if it’s subtle. The person will get more access/face time, or the feedback they receive won’t be as rigorous, or they’ll be given more understanding/exceptions than other people, or on and on. It’s very, very hard not to let bias show up in any way, even if unconsciously, because of the ways our brains work– that’s why in situations where we are concerned about other types of bias, best practice is to start by increasing our awareness of the possible ways unconscious bias could play out and then building systems to help spot and push back on it.

          Hiding the potential bias source is definitely not the answer.

          Also, this is very much a thing where almost everyone tends to think “we’ll be able to do it because we’re mature/professional/well-intentioned/good friends” … and often it’s fine for a while, until it’s very much not fine. Or alternately, the two main parties are oblivious to the ways it’s not fine for others.

          It’s interesting to me that people generally accept a manager shouldn’t manage their spouse or a kid or a parent, but really, really want to believe it’s okay when it’s a close friend.

          1. Despachito*

            Are you saying that it is impossible then?

            Or do you mean that it is not sufficient to just hide the source of the potential bias (and do nothing else) but if you put significant effort in managing the relationship it is still doable, although very difficult (I mean, to maintain both the friendship and the work relationship) ?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              If you manage anyone besides your friend, it’s not workable for all the reasons I wrote about in the column.

              If you only manage your friend and know that no one else will ever be added to your team … it’s still probably unworkable for the reasons I wrote about in the column, but in that case a very, very small number of people might be able to pull it off without any of those issues arising. The problem, though, is that everyone thinks they’ll be in that group, when in fact almost none of them will.

              1. Despachito*

                Thank you for your reply, Alison!

                I do not dare to argue very much because I have never managed people, and I very much agree that people often think they will pull it off… but they don`t.

                I think I then consider the one case when I saw it actually work a very rare exception of an otherwise prevalent rule.

                And, by the way, thank you very much for this site! It indeed feels like an island of sound common sense and kindness, and I am definitely learning a lot and enjoying myself at the same time. I very much appreciate your insight and the clever and kind comments of the readers.
                One of the many things I find extremely pleasant here is to find that my (and those of many of the OP`s) gut feelings are not off base, and that a lot of people actually feel the same. It is reassuring and although I do not and hopefully will never manage people, I think I can find a good use of a lot of advice and insight on personal relations I learn here.

                So thanks again, above all to you and then to all the wonderful posters!

  33. Pockey*

    I’m honestly in the camp of I wouldn’t mind being managed by a good friend or vice-versa. This also just might be my industry of advertising where its the norm to heavily socialize both internally and externally with clients, vendors, etc so managing those relationships when lines get blurred isn’t extremely out of the ordinary by any means. You definitely develop a higher skill set in separating friendship time and work time.

    However there are pitfalls to be sure as Alison mentioned. Generational gaps, how close friends you are, any strains on relationship, if your friend does expect favors and special treatment, etc. the list goes on. I wouldn’t take those concerns lightly and I would reconsider if I got any whiff of red flags. If you consider how they were when they were your coworker if they ever used your friendship status to have you lie to your boss, cover up a mistake, told you they were calling out because they drank too much night before, etc. Will give you clues as to how they would be when you are their boss.

    Although I will say perception is something I think can be well-managed if you are a good manager who makes it clear what expectations are and are having open and honest conversations with each direct report about their goals. That way its no mystery why certain team members are getting certain opportunities others aren’t.

  34. Tania*

    I think an odd coffee meeting with all your reports would be a good balance between being a manager and also show you are approachable and friendly.

    1. MCMonkeybean*

      I agree, if all relationships are good I think an occasional group lunch can help keep everyone friendly while also showing that you aren’t singling out Casey in particular. A very occasional individual lunch is probably fine too as long as you offer the opportunity to everyone on the team as well for some one-one-one boss time.

  35. Chilipepper*

    Others have said this and I want to add my voice too – I’m sorry but you just cannot be friends anymore.

    My supervisor got promoted into her position and remained friends with a coworker. She was warned not to and made the same casual comments others suggested about not actually being friends with this coworker, she was “just an ear” for her.

    But none of us ever trusted the new boss again. We saw preferential treatment to the coworker and lots of extra face time for the coworker when they took smoke breaks together.

    Morale in our department sunk to an all time low. Not least because the coworker who remained close to our boss was the problem child.

    It was a mess. I hope you can avoid this outcome.

  36. shirleywurley*

    I have a media background, and it is definitely not uncommon that friends end up managing other friends. (It’s one of those incestuous industries where there’s about three degrees of separation if you’re lucky.) I’ve seen it backfire horribly, and I’ve seen it go really well, and everything in between.

    So I have managed friends, and friends have managed me. Thankfully, 99% of the time, it was totally fine, and the few issues that were experienced were decidedly minor and easily resolved. But that had a lot to do with two factors: the way in which those teams were structured, and the personalities and common sense of the people involved. We also had upper management who was either genuinely good managers, or who were toxic and/or incompetent but thankfully too busy or distracted elsewhere to interfere.

    Any “favouritism” when it comes to projects and recognition can’t really happen when your team members have very different skill sets and specialities. For example, your Llama Wool Dye and Colour Specialist cannot be expected to take over or be given a project that clearly needs the skills of your Llama Electric Fence Engineer. (Of course, both those people may have some or all the skills of the other, but they have been placed in very different roles for a reason.) There was always at least one, genuinely objective, senior person you could go to (confidentially!) with any problems or concerns, including outside the team.

    We also had a team who all knew, or knew of, the lasting pain and damage that can be wrought by bad management in all its various forms. The more experienced members of the team were very careful with their optics and mentoring as to how to act when you were managing, or being managed by, a friend.

    However, I have also seen it backfire spectacularly, but not because the new manager played favourites with their friend they were now managing. No, the person who was promoted was extremely incompetent but was given the job because he was the Big Boss’s favourite, and the firned who was overlooked was angry and resentful and became a complete nightmare to both her “friend” who was promoted, but also to everyone else. Not fun.

  37. So Anon*

    Started dating a coworker (don’t) just before he was promoted. A very awkward, but friendly, break up.

  38. Anon ymous*

    I disagree with this one. While it’s the “easiest” strategy to put a pause on the friendship, it is possible to maintain the friendship even with the power dynamic.

    That being said, parts of the friendship will need to change. It helps to sit down and set expectations early on about how time at work needs to be treated differently from social time. Additionally, work gossip needs to be off-limits, and you need to be super careful to not have preferential treatment.

    I managed several very good friends both directly and indirectly (reporting to me, reporting to an employee I managed). I explicitly talked to them when they joined and told them that there will be a point where I have to fire you, or you will choose to leave, and that I didn’t want this to affect our friendship. Surprisingly, it worked better than expected, and even though the friendships have suffered (the friendship always takes a hit if you have to fire your friend), most of them are still intact, and they have recovered.

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