How to Manage Being Friends With Your Boss
Work + Life Balance

How to Manage Being Friends With Your Boss

by Jaclynn Knecht
Photos Ashley Batz | July 01, 2015

HERE'S HOW TO MANAGE THE DELICATE BALANCE BETWEEN A PROFESSIONAL AND PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR BOSS.

I have been extremely lucky in my life to have three of the best girl friends in the world since pre-school. Recently, as our relationships have progressed and significant others have come into the picture, our little circle has grown—which I love.

Earlier this year, one of my friend’s husbands—let’s call him “Joe”—approached me about an employment opportunity with his team at a digital media company. After a pretty candid conversation with Joe about why he approached me for this position, what his expectations were for my involvement, and where he hoped this would lead the both of us, I told him that I would consider the offer.

Related: The Roadmap to Switching Careers

I was extremely interested, and eager, to become a part of Joe’s team. I’ve always been intrigued by the digital media world, including blogging, social media, and video catalogs. I was slightly apprehensive, though, because although I had a high level of interest, I lacked extensive experience in the field. I weighed the issues and decided to sign on with the company anyway.

And then I had a mini-heart attack. What happens if this doesnt work out? Will I lose my friends? I would never want to put his wife in that position! What if? What if? What if?

After talking myself out of having a panic attack, I decided to pull together ideas on how I could make sure this wouldn’t turn bad.

Everyone hopes to become friends with their boss, but when you’re friends prior to working together, it can make it difficult to navigate the line between the personal relationship and the professional one.

Everyone hopes to become friends with their boss, but when you’re friends prior to working together, it can make it difficult to navigate the line between the personal relationship and the professional one.

Here are a few tips everyone can use, based on my personal experience, should their friend become their boss:

DON’T SOUND OFF TO MUTUAL CONNECTIONS

My friends and I get together every few weeks, to stay current on everything going on in eachother’s lives. If you’re anything like me, every now and then, you need a good venting session—which, in the past, has included conversations about our work lives and our bosses.

Making sure to keep my friend, Joe’s wife, out of the middle of any given venting session  was paramount. It was a deal breaker (for me, but I bet for him, too). I made a promise to myself that no matter how bad (or good) things became, I would not volunteer information or complain to her about my working experience. It’s not fair to her, or to him, and it is extremely unprofessional.

Try to keep work at work, and out of your personal life, as much as possible. {Click to Tweet}

DON’T PLAY UP THE PERSONAL CONNECTION

Yes, Joe and I are friends, but it doesn’t mean that I have a free pass to offer up my opinions on or complain about other people within the company. I have a supervisor that I report to, if any kind of issue should arise, and it would be incredibly unprofessional—not to mention inappropriate—for me to employ my friendship with Joe as a means to undermine her authority. It would also be a complete misuse of power for Joe to use the information gained from my complaints to hinder her ability to do her (or anyone else in the company’s) job.

Nobody should have to try to do their job and look over their shoulder at the same time. If you happen to be friends with your boss, you should never use that relationship to weaken a colleague’s standing within the company.

If you develop an issue with your boss, attempt to resolve the situation by sitting down and discussing it with them. If that doesn’t work, the next step would be to involve your Human Resources department, not your personal connection.

Related: How to Give Feedback to Your Boss

DON’T USE YOUR FRIENDSHIP AS AN EXCUSE

Prior to considering this position, I wanted it to be clear to Joe, and his wife, that if he were offering this position to me out of some sense of obligation (as a friend), that I didn’t want it.

Yes, I said that to him, point blank. (I told his wife the same thing).

His response was list of reasons and examples that he had compiled about why this position would be great for me. To say that I was impressed and humbled would be an understatement.

After I accepted the position, I made a point to know, in detail, what it was that Joe expected of me. Not only because I was moving into an entirely new field, but also because I did not want to be caught unaware. If people in the company knew, or found out, that I had a personal connection to Joe, I wanted to make it plainly clear that I am more than capable of fulfilling the duties of the position, on my own accord.

It’s never good when someone is hired on at a company due to a personal relationship, and then relies on others to do their job. People will quickly start to resent your lack of work ethic, willingness to participate, and/or the need for your hiring in the first place.

DON’T AIR YOUR DIRTY LAUNDRY OUTSIDE OF THE OFFICE

A number of workplaces offer opportunities to socialize outside of the office, whether it’s an organized event, or simply an after-work drink. These situations are great, because they offer you a chance to get to know your colleagues better. However, if you’re friends with the boss, you should never offer up information or gossip about what’s going on in their life.

If you’re friends with the boss, you should never offer up information or gossip about what’s going on in their life.

Do not run your mouth, telling people about the boss and his life, in hopes of gaining ground with your colleagues. That makes you not only a gossiping subordinate, but also a bad friend. I would never offer up information about Joe’s personal life to my coworkers, it’s none of my—or anyone else’s—business.

In the same vein, socializing with personal friends can be a great stress reliever. You go out, have some great conversations and a lot of laughs, and everyone feels a bit better afterwards. Not only does everyone get to blow off some steam, but it also means a break from work life. If your boss is part of your close circle of friends, it can be a balancing act to actively avoid making references to work. Sometimes, though, it can seem unavoidable.

If you’ve got nothing but great things to say, then don’t be afraid to share some tidbits about your career. But if you’re unhappy, or there’s tension about a particular person or situation, you should not use a social situation as an opportunity to bend your boss’ ear about things happening at work. Just like you, your boss needs a break from work. Let it go. Leave it at the office.

Just like you, your boss needs a break from work. Let it go. Leave it at the office.

It is a completely different dynamic when you become friends with your boss. {Click to Tweet} That is something that most people hope for and strive to achieve. But when you’re friends first? Trying to navigate between the personal and the professional with your boss can feel like you’re walking on a tightrope.

The best thing to do is make sure you both are on the same page, and talk out any issues that arise—because if it doesn’t work out and you lose your balance, you might lose your job…and your friendship.

Related: How to Communicate Effectively at Work