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10 Tips on How to Supervise Friends and Co-Workers

David has over 15 years of supervisory experience and has extensive knowledge of how to handle personnel issues across many areas.

Improperly supervising friends and former co-workers can leave you burned.

Improperly supervising friends and former co-workers can leave you burned.

What Are the Dangers of Managing Friends at Work?

Sometimes it can be easier to supervise those you have never met or worked with before. You don't know them, and they don't know you. The danger with supervising friends and co-workers is that they know the kind of person you are. You may know how they are as employees, but they also know how you are as an employee and person. The transition can be difficult, and each person handles it in a different way.

How to Supervise Friends

Below are some tips that you can use when you are supervising friends, which could be much harder than supervising former co-workers:

  1. Pull your friend(s) aside and explain to them that you won't treat them any differently than anyone else. You need to explain to your friends that you won't give them special treatment just because they are your friends, nor will you go harder on them just to prove yourself to other employees. Just flat out say that you will treat them fairly and equally. I also recommend you give that same message in front of all staff, so those who aren't friends with you know that you will treat them fairly and equally.
  2. Keep the social life out of the workplace. If you hang out with your friends outside of work, then don't bring up what you did in the workplace. Other co-workers already suspect your friends will receive special treatment, so don't encourage their thoughts by discussing what you did the night before. Better yet, avoid socializing altogether with your friends who are now your employees.
  3. Avoid whispering and private conversations. If your staff see you whispering or talking to your friends while in the office, even if it's about something innocent, they will assume you are telling them secrets about anything in the office. If you need to pull your friends away for a work-related conversation, then do it in a completely private area of the office.
  4. Be prepared to be snubbed by some of your friends. If they see that you are a supervisor, they may think that you feel you are too good for them or that they can't trust you. So give your friends time to get used to seeing you in that position. Show you are fair.
  5. Don't let emotions sway you. There may be times that you have to do something you don't want to do to your friends. That could be something as small as disciplining them or something as bad as firing them. It's nothing personal. You have a job to do, and so do they. Being a supervisor means you have to handle these tasks without letting emotions cloud your judgement. Don't let your friendship cloud your judgement.

Overall, you just have to ensure you are fair to your friends while letting others see you are impartial despite the subordinate being your friend.

How to Supervise Former Co-Workers

Supervising former co-workers may not be as hard on a personal level since they may not be your friends, but it can present some difficulties. Follow the tips below on how to adjust to it:

  1. Start with a clean slate. Co-workers tend to bad mouth their boss, slack off, etc. Forgive what your co-workers did in the past and focus on what they do in the here and now. You can't assume they are bad employees for what they told you when you were once their co-worker.
  2. Give them time to adjust. It can be harder for a former co-worker to get used to one of their own becoming a supervisor. Let them get used to the idea in their own time. If they see that you are a fair supervisor that makes good decisions, they will get used to it in no time.
  3. Don't make mass, sweeping changes in the workplace. While this is true for any job, this is even more true when you are in a supervisory position over former co-workers. Get their input, as they may think their voice will be heard since you used to be one of them. Even if you don't use their suggestions, they will still be glad you asked for their opinion.
  4. Be prepared to be snubbed by some of your former co-workers. Just like friends, some of your former co-workers could snub you. They may feel like they can't trust you or that you will serve as a spy. Just give them time to get used to you in that position.
  5. Show that you will still work with them and not above them. You should still get your hands dirty from time to time and do the job that they do. They will see that you are still grounded and understand what their job is, and not just acting like a supervisor to watch and scold them when they do something wrong.
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Letting your former co-workers get adjusted to you being a supervisor is the key to winning them over. If you go in with an iron fist and implement sweeping changes, then they will never respect you as a supervisor.

Experiences in Supervising Friends and Former Co-Workers

I have my fair share of stories that involve supervising friends and former co-workers, a few of which I will share below.

  • Another office was merged with my own office, and the former supervisor of that office consistently gave those from her office special treatment. One instance, in particular, came up. It was time to decide who goes to what shift (it was a 24-hour operation), which was based on seniority in the department. By that time, everyone had been trained in all duties, so those from the other unit could bid for the shift they wanted. However, this supervisor gave those from that unit the preferred shifts before letting anyone bid. Everyone from the original office complained thoroughly, to the point she had to retract what she had done and let everyone bid equally. From that point forward, no one respected this supervisor since she showed preferential treatment to her favored employees.
  • The office manager in my unit was way too close to an employee at the lowest level. The office manager would go on trips with this employee, have private conversations with this employee in her office that were obviously not work-related, etc. That created a lot of resentment towards her and the employee. The worst part is that the employee's supervisor felt helpless to do anything about it since the office manager didn't seem to discourage such behavior. It created a lot of stress in the office.
  • I had to put my foot down with a friend of mine who was one of my employees. This person was hired as an employee in my office. We hadn't talked for a while, but we were glad to see one another. However, she had constant disciplinary issues. She would talk on the phone a lot, backtalk me, and even state she was taking time off despite me stating that she couldn't. It caused quite a lot of issues. But despite our friendship, I had to look at the needs of the office and take the appropriate actions, despite this person being my friend.

One Last Piece of Advice

I have one final piece of advice to give when supervising your friends and former co-workers: Don't.

To avoid any messy situations, it could be best to find a job where you won't be supervising any friends or former co-workers. Always take your own career into account, but sometimes friends are more important than a job.

Lastly, I recommend picking up the book It's Your Ship. It tells real-world stories about how to be a boss. It's a quick read and provides a lot of great insight.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2013 David Livermore

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