I have been working here for several years and have recently been promoted to manager. I’m excited about the opportunity, but now I supervise people who used to be co-workers. Most of them have been very supportive, but a few have become a little cool toward me. The real problem is that one of my new “subordinates” is also a friend. He and I hang out after work and often have lunch together. How can I keep my friend without compromising my role as manager?
A.Balancing social and work relationships is always challenging, but when there are different levels of power and authority, it can be especially tricky. By continuing to have a close personal relationship with your employee, you run several risks. The most obvious is the perception on the part of other employees that you are giving preferential treatment to your “friend” whenever favorable employment decisions are made regarding him. Did he really deserve that raise, or is it just that he’s your buddy? In addition to the risk of misperception, there is also the risk that you may actually treat him better without realizing it. It’s hard for most of us to separate our actions from our emotions. When a manager likes and trusts someone, that person can seem like the logical choice for important assignments, for example, even though it might be a better management decision to pick someone who is talented, though perhaps less personable, or who needs to gain experience. Another risk is that you may be reluctant to discipline your employee/friend when necessary for fear of seeming “bossy”. And you should also consider the difficult position in which you place him. He may become isolated from his current – your former – peers because of your relationship. Or he might find it difficult either to accept or appropriately challenge your authority. I’m not saying it’s impossible to be friends with a subordinate. But it can be very difficult. So, my advice is to tell him that, at least until the two of you are more firmly established in your new work roles, you need to limit your social interactions to things that involve the entire group. If he really is your friend, he’ll understand. Welcome to the bittersweet world of management.