Getting along with your coworkers is a perk, and you might even meet some of your closest friends at work. However, when you move into a leadership role, the people who were once your peers can become your direct reports, which could feel awkward and leave you unsure of how to speak to them. It’s a common situation that occurs throughout industries, and there are a few ways you can smoothly transition to this new type of role without losing the connections you’ve made already.
How Should You Behave at Social Events?
Every company’s culture is different, so what works for one person may not be appropriate for someone else. For instance, many teams go out for drinks as a team-building activity to let off some steam after a busy week. While you may want to have the same amount of fun as before, becoming a leader means you need to act the part.
Follow what other managers at your company do and see how they act with direct reports on these occasions. If none of the managers attend this type of event, it’s best to avoid them in the future. Consider talking with your own manager or someone in a similar position to learn more about how to act in higher-level role. They will provide some insight, so you don’t become the subject of the latest coffee room gossip after the holiday party—or worse, called into HR for behaving inappropriately.
On the other hand, completely avoiding any social events with coworkers may send a message that you aren’t interested in spending time with them. Depending on your work culture, it’s OK to join in on happy hours, but give your team time without you to build their peer network. Instead of focusing team-building around drinking, consider scheduling a monthly or biweekly lunch with team members, so you can connect with them in some way outside of the office setting.
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What Should You Do if You Hear Office Gossip?
While it may have been a normal morning routine to stop by your coworker’s desk and discuss the night before or the latest rumors around the office, you’ll need to display some discretion, especially if the topic is about one of your new direct reports. Negatively talking about the company or the people who work there can send the wrong message to colleagues and make it seem like you’re more concerned about how they act than getting your job done.
Once you become a manager, you’ll need to stay out of these types of conversations. Talking to other coworkers about someone’s appearance, personal life, work performance, or salary is unprofessional. If you breach someone’s confidence, your direct reports will see you as someone who can’t be trusted. Going forward, you might have difficulty learning how your team really feels about their work, or they could be reluctant to come to you with ideas or concerns.
To maintain a connected, supportive team, stay out of those cliquey conversations. If there are issues about a direct report’s work performance or attitude about their job, discuss it with them directly to help them do better. This helps ensure you’ll be seen as an honest and encouraging leader.
What if Your Friends Become Your Direct Reports?
Moving up to a leadership role can become uncomfortable if you have friends at work who will report to you. Make sure they know you’ll treat them fairly without favoritism and that you still respect and care about them.
Some managers have trouble being too easy or tough on the colleagues they enjoy spending time with. Focus on keeping an objective outlook and review your friends’ performance based on their contribution to the team and their productivity levels. Also, make sure you aren’t only praising the people you like for a job well done—this could lead to resentment from other team members and a drop in productivity.
According to the Harvard Business Review, forming friendships at work leads to a happier and healthier environment and encourages employees to feel more engaged. At companies where people feel comfortable making friends at work, higher levels of job satisfaction, retention, and productivity are also reported.
Since healthy relationships at work are essential to a company’s success and collaboration, you shouldn’t have to completely cut off the friendships you’ve developed with your colleagues. A promotion into a leadership role changes your relationship dynamic, but with time to adjust, you’ll hit your pace. If your friend supports you, they’ll respect that you have new expectations and boundaries at work. Meet with the members of your team individually when you get promoted and ensure they know what to expect from you as a manager. You should also be open to feedback and give your team opportunities to talk to you one-on-one and make suggestions.
A promotion is an exciting opportunity to move up in your company and receive more responsibility. How you interact with friends at the office may change, but it’s important to continue to foster an open and communicative environment where people feel welcome and valued.