What happens when your work friend becomes your boss?


When I first started dipping my toes into the advertising world, I worked for a really small start-up that had a staff of about 15 people.

The small size of the company meant that we would spend all of our time together and we naturally became a close-knit group of friends.

During my tenure at this firm, a number of friends and co-workers were promoted to positions that involved me working under them. I was also put in a position that gave me authority over some of my closest friends and colleagues. For a while, we struggled to find the appropriate balance as co-workers, friends and “underlings.”

Co-worker relationships are interesting. These are people you probably spend 90% of your week with and they’re relationships that can be lasting and influential to your career. But what happens when your co-worker, and friend, gets promoted to a position as your superior? Does the relationship stay the same?

How do you deal with the fact that your closest confidante is now your boss?

Respect the space

This person is obviously someone you may be reporting to on a regular basis. Remember that even though you’re friends, you have to respect the position he or she has been given, and act accordingly. Never think that deadlines and expectations are lowered because your best friend is the boss.

Talk about it

Express your thoughts and develop a strategy for how this new work relationship will function. Set out guidelines that respect both you and your co-worker’s positions, but be flexible in a manner that allows you to still socialize with them. This is a good way to gauge how you and your friend can interact with each other, especially if hanging out at the local pub and gabbing is common after work.

You may even feel an inkling of jealousy, and that’s understandable. But bottling it all up and acting like a jerk to someone who considers you a friend isn’t right. The same thing applies if your friend is being cocky or running on a power trip. Lay it all out on the table, express how you feel, but be professional. You are still co-workers.

Learn from them

Your colleague has clearly demonstrated that he or she is capable of  moving into a more senior position. Learn from that. Shadow them and observe how they work and. if possible, use them as a mentor to help you advance in your own career. This is someone who knows you well and can provide you with a wealth of great knowledge and ideas on improving your own work process.

What happens if I get promoted and become a superior to my friends?

Well, first of all, scroll back up and read the first two pointers, and replace your colleague with yourself.

But what about number three? How would that work?

Become the mentor! Reverse the role and guide your friends to do better at work. Teach them what you know and what you did to get to where you are. Friends help each other out, right?

Have you experienced this scenario in your career? Share your thoughts and what you did to make the best of this situation in the comments below.

Photo credit: foosball at work by Al Abut on Flickr