A vent over a coffee is a pastime across industries for a reason. There’s plenty of studies researching the benefits of work friends, but it’s a no-brainer that you end up at the cafe together. Five days a week gives you a lot of time to make friends and plenty of fodder to gossip over.
During all those hours, you develop habits and ways of speaking with co-workers. Inside jokes. There’s a natural rhythm to the workplace, and there’s nothing like a promotion to throw everything out of whack.
It’s the age-old question: can bosses and employees be friends? And how do you negotiate directing staff who, until last week, shared your seniority level?
The answer to both: mindfully.
If there was ever a moment to live in the present, handling new power dynamics is it. It is possible to stay friends, but it’s not going to be the same. The gossip, the open sharing on social media and favours are going to have to stay in the past.
It isn’t a secret. You are now a manager. Your co-workers report to you. You get the benefits, responsibilities, recognition and pay that they may have interviewed for.
In a landscape where white male leadership still dominates, it’s so important for anyone who is a woman, queer, an immigrant or any other minority to celebrate and own their success. But feeling guilty and afraid of losing friends complicates this. Support systems and community are crucial for anyone facing down a system that isn’t built for them, and a new hierarchy at work can leave you feeling lonely and uncertain.
Open conversations are the first step: sitting down with your team individually airs the room. It might feel awkward, but admitting that dynamics have shifted gives everyone a chance to stop concerns from becoming actual problems. Make it clear what needs to change in an open, kind and honest way. Things are different, and it’s okay to admit that.
You Have Time
With a higher-level of seniority, there’s more pressure to prove yourself. You were chosen over others, and now you need to show that you were the right decision.
Before you walk in making promises, moving desks and swearing that things will be different, breathe. Ease into the job and listen to what others have to say. You might have a vision, but it doesn’t have to happen on day one! There’s value in learning how you can help your team, not how you can gut the workplace. Talk to your co-workers about what they want. Ask for reviews from objective parties about your transition. Give yourself space to understand the bigger picture from management’s perspective so you can effectively create large changes.
Rethink weekly coffee dates
A promotion doesn’t mean you can’t have an old friend over for dinner. It does, however, mean you have to reconsider how often they appear on your work calendar. In a healthy office, the boss doesn’t have favourites. Of course, you will, but you can’t say it. An office where everyone knows who the boss likes more creates a popularity contest. Your time and your attention have to be fairly divided and everyone should feel like their voice and work is equally valid.
The same goes for assignments. Even if you wouldn’t intentionally take advantage of your position, pause before putting a friend on a task. Are you favouring them? Relying on them to get you out of a tight spot? You can remain friends, but only if there’s no difference when it comes to the jobs they get and how they’re assessed compared to the rest of your team.
Keep your lips sealed
Gossiping is a guilty pastime for most of us. Let face it: it’s an easy way to bond, but it can’t happen anymore when you’re the boss. What you say as a co-worker and what you say as a manager carry different weight. While you may dislike an employee, that shouldn’t be something their co-worker knows.
Neither should sensitive information. It’s tempting to keep a friend in the loop. However, letting them in on news they shouldn’t know is overstepping some very necessary boundaries.
If those prove too tempting, it might be a good time to step back and reassess your friendship.
Are your posts NSFW? Do you love an overshare? A promotion doesn’t mean you have to stop, but you should reassess your lists. Whether this means unfollowing, picking close friends or changing your privacy status, reconsider who sees what. While it’s okay to stay friends on social media with employees, they might need to be slotted into a different audience.
You’re the boss, not a God
You don’t have to carry everything. Whether it’s another manager, a mentor or a woman at your yoga class, find others who can support you and lend an ear when your old friends can’t. You might not be their co-worker anymore, but now you have others.
Again, it’s so important to have a network you trust to help you face down systems where you’re building a path from scratch. While things may change with your employees, a promotion opens up a whole new world of people to network with. Change is never easy, but it’s full of possibility.
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