Pathways Australia

How to Manage the Boss vs Friend Relationship

Let’s get straight into the nitty-gritty. Maybe you’ve recently been promoted to manager. (In that case – congrats!) Or your best friend is stepping up to lead the team?

So, right off the bat, you’re probably wondering how to navigate the transition from mate to manager? Sadly, this kind of situation is all too common, and it can be uncomfortable to reconcile for both parties.

Friendship is one of the most valuable things you can acquire in the workplace, considering we spend so much of our lives there, and workers with solid friendships are more likely to be happy and secure in their job.

According to a LinkedIn study, 46 per cent of professionals around the world believe they are happier overall when they have friends at work.

This brings us to the age-old question: 

Should managers be friends with employees?

Do we keep things strictly business during work hours, or can we keep the banter going with our former buds? Some leaders can operate effectively despite the tension, and this is a skill that can take years to develop, and usually, a dose of trial and error.

The best managers can compartmentalise different aspects of their lives. We’ve all experienced this switch up in one way or another. Whether with family, friends, acquaintances or strangers, there are different versions of yourself you present to the world. Each situation calls for a specific level of formality. And each comes with a unique set of protocols, expectations and group dynamics.

Crossing the line between boss and friend can be one of a new manager’s biggest challenges. Here’s how to handle this sticky situation like a professional. 

Treat all employees equally

Avoid favouritism and ensure each team member is listened to so that no one is given an advantage. 

Be open about the change in dynamic

Address the elephant in the room! There’s no point pretending everything’s the same. Create an environment where you can address any concerns and where employees are free to voice their discomfort without being reprimanded.

Don’t participate in gossip

This is the quickest way to tank your leadership position before you’ve even gotten started. Resolving conflict is important, but being a manager isn’t a popularity contest; it’s about being respected and trusted, you can’t always win everyone over.

Social media

According to Forbes, a recent survey of workers showed that 32 per cent are friends with their boss on Facebook.

Consider whether this is the right move for you. Do you only post wholesome family and canine content on your page? Or are your debaucherous nights out captured in microscopic detail? If that’s the case, avoid Instagram, LinkedIn is your best friend.

Don’t take things too seriously

Just because you need to maintain manager mode at work doesn’t mean you can’t go out for drinks with coworkers outside of work hours or make light of the situation with a joke or two. Just be careful not to slip into overly familiar or crude language, no longer appropriate as a manager. Remember that some topics remain off-limits, make things awkward, or strain the relationship.

COVID broke down a lot of the barriers and traditions of the pre-pandemic workplace. Much of our face-to-face, or rather, screen-to-screen communication has become about relationship-building and socialising. 

Remote working shook things up and found coworkers opening up more and seeking friendship from their colleagues. But since the formalities are now gone, workers are expecting less formal approaches to power and leadership.

The Age calls it an “informal but not unfiltered” managerial style, which involves being “friendly, but not friends” with your manager.

Personal life

According to an Adecco poll, 56 per cent of Australian workers want to keep work and private life separate (at least on social media). It seems there are still certain things you can reveal to a friend but not a boss. While your pals at work might be thrilled by certain boozy revelations, it could complicate things with your boss, wary about the big deadline coming up.

Experts suggest engaging in conversation on the TV shows or books you’ve been hooked on lately.


Unfortunately, becoming too close to a boss can muddy the waters when it comes to performance evaluation, and lead to unfair expectations of a promotion. By all means, keep things casual, but leave some employee-employer boundaries.

Want to make the BIG leap in your career? For more industry secrets, sign up for our management course.


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