Team leadership: Managing an employee who is also a friend

July 13, 2017

This post is part of our Staffing & Human Resources series. Explore more better business tips and tactics here on the Clover blog.

Can business and friendship ever mix? Famous stories of friendships ruined by a business relationship, like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak’s, may make it seem like any friendship that gets mixed up with the hard work and high stakes of building a business is doomed to fail. Friendship is particularly tough when you’re the boss—it’s not easy to tell a good friend you need that report by Thursday.

But maintaining a friendship with an employee is entirely possible, as long as you’re prepared to have some honest conversations. Here are 5 ways to effectively manage an employee who is also a friend:

1. Define responsibilities clearly.

Especially when a business is just starting up, it’s easy to take an ‘all hands on deck’ attitude, and just let whoever’s around handle whatever comes up. But when you’re managing a friend, you want their responsibilities—and your expectations—to be crystal-clear from the beginning. Make sure they know what’s on their to-do list, and make sure other employees understand where those lines are, too. Being clear from the start can help avoid some awkward conversations later.

2. Avoid even the appearance of favoritism.

If you and your friend walk into the office every Monday morning chatting about the awesome time you had on Saturday night, other employees are going to be jealous. That doesn’t mean you have to hide your friendship, but it does mean you have to be extra-careful to make sure there’s no question that you’re treating everyone fairly. Don’t let your friend slide on something you’d discipline another employee for. Don’t give your friend the best assignment if it’s not in their job description. Try to take other employees’ feelings into account—you don’t want your friend to end up feeling isolated in the office.

3. Communicate clearly about boundaries.

It’d be easy to let yourself vent to your friend about anything and everything that comes up. Make sure you’re clear about topics that are off-limits to employees, and be honest with your friend if there’s something you can’t share with them. If you’re worried that talking about some behind-the-scenes issues you’re dealing with would put your friend in an awkward situation with colleagues, tell them that.

4. Make time for your friendship outside of work.

Working with a friend means you see them all the time—but time spent together at work should be different from time spent hanging out as friends. Don’t let working together substitute for spending time together as friends. Try to maintain some separation between the two relationships. Don’t talk too much about work when you’re hanging out outside the office, and don’t let personal stuff take over too much of your work time. Navigating that work relationship will be easier if you’re deliberate about investing time in your friendship when you’re not in the office.

5. Talk about it!

Check in regularly to make sure you’re both feeling comfortable with both sides of your relationship, particularly when you’re just starting out. You may even want to have work check-ins at the office, and friendship check-ins outside of it, to make sure you’re addressing any issues that may come up. You will find the right balance as long as you both stay honest about how you’re feeling.

Becoming the boss doesn’t have to turn you into Michael Scott from The Office. You can maintain a friendship with an employee as long as you’re willing to put in some work on honest communication.

[image: the best friend by Derek Swanson on flickr]

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