6 tips to manage close ones at work

6 tips to manage close ones at work

Working with a former colleague, childhood friend, spouse or even relative can be exciting and inspiring, but managing them is a very different story. Whether you end up being the boss of your work buddy or you decide to recruit a friend or family member to your firm, balancing the role of manager and close confidante can be a challenge. Here are six tips to help you get it right.


1. Explain your role and expectations

Has your employer put you in charge of a department made up of your friends? Once the change is official, it’s important to tell the team right away, both as a group and individually. Sandrine, who was promoted to marketing director of an international corporation, did just that. “I brought everyone from the department together the next day. I wanted to make sure I communicated it in an appropriate way. I wanted to tell the employees, with whom I’m very close, the reasons behind my promotion, my vision for the role and what I expected from them. I felt they should know from the very start that I wasn’t there to tell them how to do their jobs, but that my goal was to achieve our collective goals and to improve the team’s skills. Nobody had any problems with all that. It was the opposite, in fact. For them, the new responsibility I had been given was totally justified.”

If you’re the one recruiting someone you know well, start by presenting yourself as you would with any other employee—professionally! Take the time to explain your role and how the business and the department work. Clearly define what you expect from the person and what they can expect from you. This will help you to build a solid foundation from the outset, one that will foster a healthy working environment. The more that’s left unsaid in the present, the greater the chances that conflict will arise in the future.

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2. Don’t say that nothing will change

To reassure your friend and minimise the fact that you’re now their superior, you may be tempted to say that your new professional relationship won’t change the personal one you two have already. However, it’s only logical that your relationship—in the office at any rate—will be altered. Instead, it is better to tell them that you fully intend to keep your relationship strong. As a manager, you will inevitably be called upon to make decisions or act in ways that won’t be popular with everyone—and that includes your work friends. Once again, keeping dialogue open is the most effective way of avoiding conflict in the future. What’s more, such challenges could end up strengthening your already close bond. As Sandrine said, “Ultimately, my new position strengthened the personal bonds I’d built with former colleagues, because a climate of trust was created and their feedback made me a better manager. Our interactions as a whole benefited.”

3. Ensure fair treatment

It’s normal for coworkers to get along with each other to varying degrees. After all, we are social animals. That said, your role as a manager is to give each person the same level of attention and respect. Favouritism is simply off limits. For example, if someone regularly arrives late or misses a deadline, they must face the same consequences as everyone else, regardless of their relationship with you. Be mindful of the way you speak to people as well. Avoid being too informal with your friends one minute and then suddenly shifting to a formal tone with the rest of the team.

Sandrine always makes sure to keep her tone and approach professional, especially during annual reviews. “We all have a natural tendency to focus on the positives with a friend, but I try to remain as objective as possible. I ask myself if my judgment would be the same for someone who wasn’t a friend. Would I accept such behaviour from all my staff?” she said.

4. If things go too far, set firm limits

There are many red flags that might signal your friend is trying to manipulate you for their benefit: digging for confidential information about the company, playing the friend card to challenge decisions or asking for special treatment while continually showing up late. Don’t give in to these tactics. Call a meeting with the person involved and remind them of your role and expectations on a professional level. Reiterate the commitments you’ve made to your company and team members, while reminding the latter of their own. If you let things slide, you will only encourage unprofessional attitudes and behaviour, which will end up causing problems with the rest of your team.

5. Keep things low-key

If you enjoy spending time with team members outside the office, avoid shouting it from the rooftops, especially when taking a break at the coffee machine. Advertising extra closeness with someone you manage can make other team members feel excluded or demonstrate disparity in your approach to managing professional relationships. You don’t need to be insincere and keep work friendships a secret around the office. That said, keeping a low profile when it comes to socialising with workmates – especially those you manage – is always a good way to maintain team cohesion.

6. Letting go

You’ve been happily working together for years, when suddenly your work buddy has decided to change companies, leaving you behind in the process. Sandrine knows this all too well. According to her, “It happens, and you have to avoid taking it personally, even if that’s a hard thing to do.” Once again, keeping the lines of communication open is paramount. Talk to your work friend about it. If you haven’t already discussed their departure, it’s important to talk about their reasons for leaving and, if appropriate, to reiterate that you’d like to stay friends outside the office.

Translated by Andrea Schwam

Photo: WTJJ

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