A close friend of mine will soon be moving into my department. We see each other outside of work and our significant others both work together at a different institution.

I want to be an effective manager, but I also want to make sure I remain a good friend. At the moment I can't foresee any issues as he's very bright, hard working and will be a great addition to the team.

I'd like to make sure I start off on the right path; is there anything I can do right from the beginning to make sure I'm successful at both roles?

  • 5
    At my place of work this would be considered a conflict of interest - and organizationally people would be assigned to different managers in order to prevent this (even if you might be working together closely). If the situation occurred and we did not disclose it, such inaction might be grounds for disciplinary action "up to and including termination". That might sound draconian but it tells you "there are those who think" that conflicts of interest can be a serious impediment to doing your job. I strongly recommend against going in this direction even if your workplace allows it.
    – Floris
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 16:48
  • 2
    @Floris so what about friendship that evolves during working together?
    – Riga
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 5:48
  • Been there, done that - she had to change to a different group.
    – Floris
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 5:52

4 Answers 4


Set the expectations straight with your friend, right from the get go:

  1. While on duty, you are not managing a friend. You are managing a colleague and subordinate. While you are his friend, you cannot be both a manager and a friend at the same time to him while on the job. If only for the obvious reason that you cannot afford to be perceived as favoring one colleague over another based on a personal relationship.

  2. Since both your wives work together, make sure that THEY both also understand the deal and are in on it.

  3. It is possible that at in a worst case scenario, you may be called upon to fire or lay him off. He should understand that if you do so, he should not take it personally.

  4. @AdamDavis adds: "There will be things you know, and decisions you are part of, that he won't be, and it may be that things you shared with him before must now be kept from him"

And now that you've got the hard stuff out of the way, you can all go back to enjoying your friendship :) Keep in mind that they might verbally sign off on these expectations and ignore what they had agreed to when the poop hits the fan - It's human nature, so don't take it personally if that happens :)

And make it a point to note to your friend that if the situation were reversed, you want him to treat you exactly as you are treating him :)

As an aside, your post reminds me of the story of a 1900's Parisian theater critic who skewered/savaged in print the staging of a play whose author was his close friend. "I hope it doesn't affect our friendship", the theater critic said. To which the author replied, "That's all right - I am going to knock you into the gutter. And I hope it doesn't affect our friendship!" :)

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    +1. Nevertheless: "It is possible that at in a worst case scenario, you may be called upon to fire or lay him off. He should understand that if you do so, he should not take it personally." - if you think this is realistically possible, then I have a wonderful bridge to sell to you. Sorry. (I managed a friend for a few years, and while it never came to this, I was indescribably glad when a reshuffling put a stop to the managing part of our relationship.) Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 21:03
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    StephanKolassa When it comes to friendships, it's always easier said than done :) And no matter how well both sides of a relationship understand on an intellectual level how things have to be done, the emotional aspect of the relationship can still upset the whole apple cart :) I am totally convinced that the answer I gave is the soundest answer that can be given under the circumstance but I am not deluding myself that it is bullet proof :) Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 21:18
  • Vietnhi, would you actually mind sourcing your answer? Is this drawn from management experience, or just scholastic experience, etc.
    – user1084
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 16:09
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    @djechlin It's a fairy tale derived from 25 years of work experience where I was laid off by colleagues who had to set friendship aside to lay me off - not once but several times. Thankfully, I never had to fire a friend because I knew better than hire friends who can't hack it. I believe that I was a good friend to my colleagues because I reminded them to set friendship aside and do what must be done and once they did what must be done, we still would be friends. They may have regretted having to do it but I never did. Feeling sorry for yourself is for the "woe-is-me" crowd and their wimpets. Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 16:26
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    Depending on your organization, it may also be important to flag to appropriate departments that you have a potential conflict of interest and that you excuse yourself from certain decision making things.
    – Eric
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 17:45

I've actually managed a friend whom was hired to fill a role under me. (so unlike you where you were promoted past him, I was already there when he came on board)

Set Expectations

One thing I made clear with my friend was when at work I am a professional, I take my work seriously, and I'll do what needs doing to accomplish my work. When we're out to lunch or off the clock we can be like we always have been, but on the clock I expect him to work as hard under me as he would anyone else.

Separate Work and Home

One thing my friend and I used to do is have sort of a way of visibly demonstrating if we were in work or home mode. With the nature of the job sometimes when I was "on the job" and my friend was not he needed to be able to tell incase I had clients around, etc.

For us, if my shirt was tucked in I was in work mode and needed to be treated as the boss, when I untucked it we were back to the everyday.

Don't let work poison home

While I took the professional side very seriously and at work we kept it as professional as possible. (some joking happened, but it was pretty mild) One thing we decided in advance was we set only one "not at work" time to talk about work, and that was reserved for venting. Otherwise work was a forbidden subject. When one of us started into the subject we'd say "Rule 42" (we didn't have 42 rules, it was just a nod to Hitch hiker's Guide to the Galaxy)

My experience

Since I'm a straight forward but fair boss things went pretty well. we kept work and home separate. There was no noticeable effect to our friendship, and I got a lot more work done because I had someone I could count on working for me.

Neither of us were married when it started, but he was married to one of our colleagues before it was over, between the two of them as well as us collectively same rules. At work we were professionals, when we get off work, work becomes a forbidden subject.

Would I do it again? Absolutely! I've only had two people I've had work under me who worked even remotely as hard as he did, and that "time to vent" was always a great stress relief from the office.

  • When he vented to you outside the workplace about something that you could help fix at work, how did you deal with that? Or did you have a de-facto confidentiality rule on that?
    – Nzall
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 10:46
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    We didn't have a rule about either party reacting to venting. (I think it's realistic to separate work and home, but I don't think it's realistic to not try to make things better based on complaints.) Now our venting had a pretty common theme. The CEO is an idiot (making IT decisions without including IT, or having any real technical knowledge...) or venting about one particularly troublesome user. If my friend wasn't a hard working level headed person it could have been way more challenging if he vented on stuff I'd have to get involved with. Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 15:44
  • @NateKerkhofs so I guess I would try to fix things if it was appropriate. I'd just treat it the same as any other problem an employee brought to me. (again he was level headed so generally vents were harmless vs if he went on a tirade about something that put me in a conflict of interest.) If it came to conflict of interest it'd be "depends" probably siding with business. Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 18:29

The first step is to understand that becoming his manager is going to change your friendship, and probably make it less close. Maturity in life, and success in both career and relationships, comes from accepting transition periods proactively and effectively - not from trying to make things as they've always been before the process has even begun.

Gaining and losing friendships, often for geography or love or other changes of routine, is a very natural part of life. Holding steadfastly to a friendship can cause a loss of this perspective. My hunch is you will still have a good friendship, but it will of course not be the same nor be as open. (And if I prove to be wrong, I would urge getting there carefully.)

That being said:

  1. Professional relationship first. This is partly for the reason that if the professional relationship goes awry then the friendship of course will too. You have other teammates who need to be assured your friend is not receiving special treatment and a product you need to be built.
  2. Affirm the friendship in small steps. Yes, still get dinner together. Yes, still hang out. Complain about your jobs too each other? Obviously no. Take important pieces as they fit in with your new relationship. Other pieces you may omit. If you feel less open with each other or like "things are different," that's okay, they are. Your spouses will still be close - and you will not be the first pair of acquaintances whose spouses are closer than they are - and that is fully compatible with your newly professional relationship. Don't stress this.
  3. Proactively establish the dynamic. Your friend may wonder if it's okay to go get drunk with you at a bar still. That's your decision to effect. Your friend will do the wondering, you will establish the boundaries. And of course, if your friend "oversteps", you will be very cool and professional about it, because you know this is new to both of you but you decide the right thing and do it.
  4. Ask how you would feel as another teammate. There's no black and white rules for what is okay and what isn't. Nonetheless your teammates will probably have a decisive instinct for what seems threatening, and your judgment should involve trying to see it their way.
  5. Use your judgment as a manager always. You are a manager. You have been a manager. You are experienced in work/personal situations. Maybe not this personally, but if something like this were happening between your teammates you would proactively manage it, professionally and effectively and in a way that left your teammates hopefully happy with your leadership. Keep that attitude here - it's all you need, really.

By the way, let me discuss the extreme case of firing your friend, since that is the "stress test" of whether advice laid out in these posts holds any water or not.

In a firing, some managers can capably demonstrate compassion, which, in particular, includes laying out the resources the manager will provide very clearly. Should you have to fire your friend, you can still do this the best way possible with regard to your professional and personal responsibilities. It would be devastating, but devastating doesn't mean the personal relationship ceases or the situation cannot be handled "better" or "worse." So, yes, even when circumstances dictate the coldest professionalism possible, you still will act in a way that cultivates your professional or personal relationship, even if cultivation means closing one or the both of them. But the management does not simply cease because things are "sufficiently bad."

And, post-firing, you know what? You are still in charge of the dynamic. Your friend may feel angry, but that's not the dynamic. The "are we professional" and "are we personal questions" are still on you as his emeritus manager. You will set what it means to be a "former manager" as you go forward. I believe this is the important point that demonstrates how the relationship adapts.


I've undergone the same process a number of times in different workplaces, in both the capacity as the successor and of the underling.

Speak with your friend and explain that both work and leisure have their own demarkation, their own territory. Anything that goes on during work time is just that- work, and doesn't have any bearing on your friendship or leisure time.

You need to have this discussion outside of work however, in a social environment where neither of you is in a superior position, otherwise the whole arrangement will start off with the underlaying feeling that its a work edict rather than something you've both decided upon.

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