What to Do When Your Friend Becomes Your Boss


Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for Management pros

Thursday, September 9, 2021

A workplace friend moving into a senior position and effectively becoming your boss can be difficult, so what can you do to manage the situation?

Article 6 Minutes
What to Do When Your Friend Becomes Your Boss

Close relationships can be an extremely valuable thing in the workplace, seeing as people spend so much time with their colleagues over the course of the average month or year.

Many people make some of their closest friends at work, and while this can be a big plus for the individuals and the organization as a whole, it can also lead to some difficult situations.

One common scenario that can be problematic is when one member of a workplace friendship is promoted, meaning they essentially become their friend’s boss. This can be fairly uncomfortable for both parties, and also raises questions about whether you can maintain a close relationship with someone without sacrificing professionalism.


Here are some tips that could prove useful if you ever find yourself in this situation:

1. Talk about it

This is a significant change in your relationship, so it’s important that you and your friend have a frank discussion about it and be honest about how you feel.

Firstly, remember that your friend will care about your opinion and could feel hurt if you resent their progress, so offer your praise and congratulations on their promotion. This might be difficult if the role they have taken is one you were interested in yourself, but it’s always better to be magnanimous than bitter.

If you’re somewhat shocked at the news and have some concerns about how it will affect your relationship, don’t be afraid to admit it. Try to look to the future with optimism, though, and think about how you and your friend can maintain a positive, if different, relationship.

2. Accept that things will change

One of the least helpful responses to your friend becoming your boss is pretending it hasn't happened and trying to carry on as if nothing has changed.

The reality is that your friend has moved into a new role that requires them to take on different responsibilities, which might include evaluating your conduct at work and making sure you are on track to meet your professional targets.

It’s vital to accept that things have changed and to maintain a mature attitude, even if your friend-turned-boss is required to do certain tasks that make you both feel slightly uncomfortable.

By accepting the change and moving forward in a sensible, understanding way, the new situation will soon feel like the norm

3. Help your boss succeed

One of the most important things to remember is that, however close you were (and may continue to be) with your new boss in friendship terms, your relationship now needs to take on a new dimension in the workplace.

If you want to be professional and make a positive contribution to the company, one of your top priorities should be to help your boss settle into their new role. The close connection you already have with them means you can play a big part in helping them drive stronger performance for your team and the business as a whole.

You can continue to show support for them and help them make a smooth transition into their new role by:

  • Being open-minded and positive about any new initiatives or practices they want to introduce
  • Staying focused on your core responsibilities and how you can make their task easier by doing your job to a high standard
  • Helping them gather data and insights from your team to inform their planning and decision making

4. Be open with other colleagues

If your co-workers were also friendly with the person who has moved into a more senior role, they are effectively going through exactly the same experience as you.

Opening up to these colleagues and having an honest conversation about the latest developments could help you feel a lot more comfortable. Speaking about your worries often has a positive, cathartic effect, and you could feel reassured if your co-workers are finding the situation difficult as well.

Furthermore, the fact that your friend is becoming your boss could mean that certain parts of your relationship will be lost. Getting to know other team members better and forming stronger bonds with them could help to make up for this, ensuring you still have people to talk to and rely on when your job gets stressful.

These are often some of the biggest advantages of working closely with others every day, and a change in one relationship could herald the start of a new phase in another.

5. Avoid office gossip

Office gossip is rarely helpful or productive, but it can be particularly damaging when someone who’s had a close relationship with a newly promoted boss gets involved in spreading rumors or creating a toxic workplace atmosphere.

It's crucial to maintain a professional attitude and to steer clear of any situations that might make you or the boss feel uncomfortable.

Another possibility is that you’ll overhear people talking about your friend-turned-boss and saying things you might know to be untrue. In this scenario, the best policy will be to stay out of it and let an impartial party deal with the situation.

When workplace gossip starts to become a real problem, there are actions you can take to help find a resolution to the issue. One option could be to take it to the HR department, which could be particularly important if you feel it's escalating to the point of bullying or harassment.

Just remember that, while you may have been close with the new boss as a friend, that doesn't mean you have to feel responsible for protecting or standing up for them. Sticking to the procedures outlined in your company policies and following the proper channels will always be the best option.

6. Don’t expect favorable treatment

Perhaps most importantly of all, it’s vital that you don’t assume your friend will be able to give you special treatment or privileges now that they’re your boss.

Respect the fact they have taken on a new role and it could be the start of an exciting phase in their career. Small favors or benefits for you - however innocuous they might seem - could be interpreted as prejudicial to other members of the workforce. If your friend is found to have been involved in this sort of conduct, it could cost them their job.

However, it’s quite possible that your friend becoming your boss could have benefits in the long run. They know you well and know what you’re capable of in a professional sense, so if a new job or a promotion becomes available, you might be at the top of their list.

Ultimately, a positive, professional and rational attitude should be enough to get you through this tricky situation, helping to ensure you and your friend can maintain a good relationship and succeed in your jobs.

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