YOU’RE THE BOSS in your organization. How do you interact with your employees? Are you friends with your staff or just friendly?

How did you become the boss? In many organizations, people are promoted from within—which generally is a good thing. Sometimes the boss is hired from outside the organization, which can be a good practice too, depending on the needs of the organization.

It doesn’t matter how you step into the supervisor role. When you do, you’re entering a new universe with a different set of rules.

Let’s say you’ve been promoted from within. Just last week, you were a peer. You were one of the guys and had lunch with your friends. Perhaps you socialized with this same group after work. As much time as you spent with each other, you had become invested in the lives of your co-workers. On the organization chart, you were at the same level. No one in your group reported to anyone else in that group. Life was good.

Or perhaps you’ve been brought in as an external hire. You don’t know any of your new subordinates—you’ve never worked with any of them. But on the organization chart, you’re one step higher than they are.

In both situations, my advice to you is to be friendly, but not friends. This is usually harder when you’ve been promoted from within, as last week these people were your friends. But you’re in a different role now, and the lines are blurred.

Unfortunately, in many cases the newly promoted supervisor is not counseled about this prior to assuming the new position. When someone offers a promotion, the excitement is rampant and most will say yes without thinking of the consequences. And there are definite ramifications that will impact both the boss and subordinates.

Let’s say you are the internally promoted supervisor who continues to have lunch with friends who are now employees. Remember, you will conduct performance evaluations at some point. It’s hard for you to be as objective as you need to be when you’re still buddies. Plus, there’s the perception of favoritism. How will those who report to you who were not previously in your inner circle respond to seeing you partying after work with people who report to you? Probably not well.

This is a hard situation to be in. I’ve always been the new supervisor hired from outside the organization, so have never had to deal with this. But I’ve seen it often enough, both in places I’ve worked and in other organizations.

If you’re being internally promoted, create some rules for yourself and share those rules with your staff. My rules might be helpful as a starting point. One thing I will not do is have lunch with individual employees. I’ve had to explain to several folks over the years why I always say no—it’s because I don’t want others to feel I’m playing favorites. As a corollary, I won’t socialize outside of work with individuals, either. Does it mean I am lonely? Occasionally. But I try and communicate the reasons why I adhere to these rules.

Of course, people are going to do what they’re going to do.

I worked with a unit where a front-line person was promoted. She kept having lunch daily with her best friend from her front-line days. This created much jealousy and gossiping. Once I learned what was going on, I suggested the supervisor stop having lunch with this one person. She was shocked! She said that what she did on her lunch hour was her business. Then I explained how it was perceived by others, something she hadn’t thought about. She wasn’t thrilled to give up her lunches with her buddy, so I suggested she give up her supervisory role and revert back to her old job. She chose to give up the lunches.

Being friendly with your colleagues is fabulous. Just don’t be their friends. It creates discord that’s not necessary.

Get our FredBiz Newsletter

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Lynne Richardson is the dean of the College of Business at the University of Mary Washington.

Load comments