How To Deal with Friends as Subordinates

Being promoted ahead of your friend from the office may cause some resentment.  Some friends might expect special favors from you as their supervisor.  When you are faced with a situation where you need to draw the line between friendship and work, tread lightly.  Here are a few suggestions in handling this delicate situation.

  • Break the news about your promotion to your friend personally.  Don’t wait for the boss to make the big announcement verbally or through a memo.  Invite your friend out to lunch or dinner perhaps.  If you expect the announcement to come a day after you were told, dinner would be a good time to talk to your friend.  This will give him time to think about the new situation overnight.  Tell your friend the news but do not brag, boast or gloat.  Instead, be humble and sensitive when relaying your promotion especially if he has been in the office longer than you.
  • Explain what is expected of you.  Tell your friend what the company now expects from you.  This includes how you are supposed to deal with work and manage people under you.  Your friend should have a clear understanding of your new change in role.
  • Act fairly.  Before anyone accuses you of favoritism, make sure your decisions are unbiased.  If you extend certain courtesies to your friend, make sure to do the same for others under your wing.  At the same time, don’t act like you are still one of the boys.  A little distance is now expected from you while in the office.  Don’t always join your subordinates for lunch.  They may need some privacy to talk about work related matters that they don’t want a supervisor like you to know about.
  • Be impartial and just in your evaluation.  During evaluation time, base your friend’s evaluation on the performance standards set by the company.  These performance standards should have been clear to your subordinates to start with.  As much as possible, try to be as objective as you can possibly be.  Never compare your friend to another co-worker.
  • Consult the Human Resources Department.  As a new supervisor, you should be aware of your responsibilities in terms of managing employees under your position.  For any personnel issues, talk to the Human Resources manager for clarifications or advice on how to deal with these matters.  
  • Address problems with your subordinate-friend early on.  If you feel any resentment from your friend or if your friend seems to be taking advantage of you, act early.  Have a heart-to-heart talk with him.  Tell him what you have noticed or are feeling.  Explain that the situation is different now in the office but you are still friends outside.  If he is a good friend, then he will understand and support your success.
  • Learn when to share information.  As a supervisor, you will now be privy to more sensitive information coming from management.  You may also hear about certain personnel movements or company decisions that may affect the other employees.  These types of information are not meant to be shared.  Otherwise, it will be in the company newsletter.  Know when and what type of information you can share with your subordinate. 

Becoming your friend’s supervisor is not easy.  It will take some time for both of you to adjust to the situation.  Always act fairly and be sensitive yet impartial in dealing with your subordinate-friend.


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