How To Be a Boss to a Staffer Who’s Also a Friend

Jan 17, 2017 · 4 min read

You spend a lot of time with your employees. It’s inevitable that friendships will bloom over the years. This makes things all the more difficult when you need to use your professional authority to correct someone you would consider to be more than just an employee. It happens to the best of us, and putting it off won’t do anyone any favors. If the employee in question values your friendship as much as you do, it’s absolutely possible to do your job without any long lasting ramifications that will smother your camaraderie.

Don’t Let Familiarity Cloud Your Judgement

There are certain mistakes our friends may make that we’re willing to let go in a social setting. These same mistakes may be unacceptable in the workplace. For example — you’re unlikely to disown a friend who shows up half an hour late to every gathering, but an employee who shows up to work half an hour late every day is a completely different ballgame. You handle a friend by creating an inside joke about their habitual untimeliness. Taking that tact in the workplace doesn’t qualify as a disciplinary action.

When you’re preparing your approach to the situation, make sure it doesn’t sound too much like a friendly goad. Be positive that you aren’t allowing problematic behavior to continue simply because you favor a particular employee. Entering the disciplinary process with this mindset will help you take effective action that sends a clear message.

Act As Soon As You Notice

It’s a conversation that nobody wants to have, but putting it off will only make things worse. Rather than running the risk of an issue increasing in severity, address it immediately. Early intervention is always your best strategy. The longer you wait, the more you’ll have to contend with when the time comes to handle the situation. Don’t wait for multiple employees to complain about the action, either — they may view your slow reaction time as favoritism which will only create a tense atmosphere in the workplace.

When you’ve recognized the issue, consider it from all sides. Don’t limit yourself to what company policy dictates. Realize how the actions of the employee in question may be affecting others, and draft up a proposed resolution that will satisfy the concerns of all parties involved. It’s your job to make sure everyone is getting along.

Speak with Comfortable Authority

What you say is just as important as how you say it. Your tone of voice and the words you choose will add a lot of weight to any given situation. When you’re disciplining an employee who is also a friend, the key is to find the right balance between authority and friendliness. You have a connection with the individual you are disciplining, and to pretend otherwise won’t be doing anyone a favor.

It is imperative that while you are having the vital conversation, you don’t bring in personal details. Don’t reference any personal disputes over private matters you may have had with this employee in the past. If the employee references them, redirect the conversation and work out those details at a different time. Speak only about what’s important, and try to keep things short.

Exercise Empathy

Everyone is going to feel a little awkward afterwards. There’s not much you can do about that — other than keeping that awkward feeling from getting worse. Going about your day to day life as though that conversation never happened might seem like a great way to move on, but the disciplined employee may have a different perspective on the matter. This is why it’s so important to exercise empathy.

Give things some time to settle down before you act like the discussion you had was a thing of the past. Even people who take criticism exceptionally well may need some time to digest it. Imagine how you would feel if the tables were turned and you found yourself being disciplined by one of your closest employees. Don’t overwhelm anyone, and let the employee dictate when he or she is comfortable resuming your workplace friendship.

Leave Work at Work

If the employee you’ve disciplined is someone you speak with outside of work hours, whether it be at gatherings or on social media, it’s important to leave work at work. You don’t owe anyone an apology for doing your job, even though you may feel obligated to provide one in a friendlier, less professional setting.

Friends overcome little hang-ups all the time. That’s how we differentiate our friends from our acquaintances. It’s not always easy waiting for things to blow over, but it doesn’t last forever.



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