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Being In The Friend Zone As A Manager: Strategies To Help You In 10 Sticky Situations

Having a friend at work can make work more bearable, can make the time go faster, and can even enhance your reputation. A Gallup study recommends not just having friends at work, but to have a “best” friend at work, citing multiple workplace health benefits.

However, there are the friends that you make as you work together closely, and potentially friends knew from somewhere else who wound up working at your company. The advice Gallup gives may tempt you to get your friends hired at your company, and there are certainly many companies who want you to refer your friends – the whole birds of a flock theory. Some will even pay you if your friends get hired.

Before you decide to bring your friend into the company, I want you to think about some hypothetical situations you may likely face, especially if you are the hiring manager and you’re considering hiring a friend to be on your team.

Of course, there are times when you’ll make friends at work, but for the sake of this article, we’ll stick with a friend you knew from before. Look for future blogs about the other possible work friend situations.

1. When They Can’t Get Past Who You Were

The friends I’ve known the longest remember when I was young and stupid. They’ve seen me at my lowest. They know and accept me, my mistakes, and my flaws, for the most part. They also have most likely benefited in some way from my strengths, even helping me recognize what makes me special.

Just because they accept me as a person and friend doesn’t mean they’ll accept my authority as a manager.  They may not like the way I manage at all, actually. And, just because they accept my shortcomings doesn’t mean that they won’t exploit them, even subconsciously.

2. When They Wind Up Being Not Who You Thought They Were

There certainly are friends who know how to be professional and understand how to respect your friendship and your leadership. There are probably not as many of your friends who can do this as you think, though. Your past history can be a good indicator, but being a recruiter taught me that with people, you can never be 100% certain.  It really takes two highly emotionally intelligent people to appropriately handle the sticky situations that arise, let alone maintain a friendship through them.

3. When You Have to Manage Performance

As the manager of your friend, you are held responsible for their performance, as you are equally responsible for the rest of your team’s performance. You have to be extra vigilant not to be harsher nor more forgiving of your friend.

Enforcing standardized metrics can ensure that everyone gets held to the same standards.

You have to have a relationship set up from the get-go where you both agree that honesty is kindness. The affection and acceptance that you have for each other can either make it harder or easier, to tell the truth.

This agreement has to go both ways, but you also have to establish that same agreement with all of your team members. Otherwise, if your other team members see your friend as the only one who can talk to you candidly, they will wind up confiding in your friend their concerns, especially those about you. Your friend can then become an unofficial, involuntary delegate to deliver feedback.

Think about how you have both broached difficult conversations in the past. Has it gone both ways? How have you handled it? What were the feelings around it, spoken or unspoken? Do you have a relationship in which honesty is delivered with love and good intentions? Has it helped you both become better?

4. When Your Best Friend Makes A New Best Friend

Of course, you want your friend to make new friends at work…just not a new best friend. However, that’s exactly what can happen. You may have been friends since childhood – a function of the fact that you lived in close proximity to each other, had mutual interests, and other mutual friends.

However, at work, there may be a greater diversity of people with different interests, beliefs, life experiences, and passions to bond over.

Sometimes it happens that what your friend and new friend bond over is you. This is the worst-case scenario of your friend making a new best friend. When you’re the manager, you also often are the scapegoat, and the common enemy. This can really get toxic and degrade morale for the team as a whole. If you get into this situation, I recommend also getting a coach. You will regularly want an objective opinion and someone who can help you check your ego so that you address this from a professional standpoint and without letting your personal feelings dictate if, when, and how you put the kibosh on workplace commiserating against you.

5. When You Are Accused of Nepotism

If your friend winds up being a superstar and getting promoted ahead of other team members, expect that you will have to defend the equality of the opportunity. You will be scrutinized on anything more you could have done to set your friend up for success.

You’ll have to think about if, in the extra time that you spent with your friend, you offered extra trade secrets. You’ll have to determine if their intimate knowledge of who you are giving them an edge in learning from you or earning your favor. You’ll also have to determine if you have felt freer to give them an edge through the information you shared about the other team members.

It’s also possible that they have learned from some cultural tips or tips from earning more recognition, money or perks even before they started.

You have to hand out trade secrets, or “hot” clients, or prominent projects, to all your team members, or at least give them equal opportunity to earn them. Set them up equally for growth opportunities. Be prepared to back up your recommendation or promotion decision based on expectations that you made clear to each team member on what it will take to earn a promotion.  Cite specific examples of performance that warranted the recommendation and performance that fell short of what you previously communicated.

Keep in mind your friend most likely wants people to know that he or she deserved a promotion, or things could get really bad for them, too.  It can make it harder for them to succeed with their own team if there is a belief that it wasn’t by merit, but your friendship that got them there.

6. When You Have Bias For and Bias Against Your Friend

We all do this thing to protect ourselves from looking bad where we assume that we’re unbiased. However, bias operates without our conscious awareness. It really takes quiet self-reflection and heightened self-awareness to recognize it in ourselves.

You know your friend very well, and may be able to identify ahead of time, sooner than other team members, when something is off, and what to do to get them back on quickly.  You may have additional insight into what tends to interfere with your friend’s mood, or how they act when something is bothering them.

Make it a habit to spend time regularly in quiet reflection assessing your response to your friend in comparison to your response to other team members. Ask yourself hard questions, and listen and record the responses in a journal. Sometimes you can’t recognize a pattern until it’s visually there in front of you.

Also, make it a practice to schedule time getting to know such things about your team members. Be proactive in asking them how they are dealing with challenges at work, or even at home.

7. When Your Friend is Dealing with Life

It happens to all of us –  accidents, death, financial difficulties, relationship problems, etc. When these things happen, they don’t happen in a vacuum or a silo. They tend to bleed into other areas of our lives, including our work.

You may even know personally the people in your friends’ life who are impacted by these life events, and so you may be dealing with life by association. This is when you need your friends the most. As your friend’s manager, however, you have to make sure that you are extending the same sympathy, time off, support, understanding, and slack to all of your team members when life happens to them, as well.

And, you’ll have to work harder to build a relationship with other team members in which they feel comfortable confiding in you when life happens.

8. When Your Team Gets Jealous

Your team members may see you being a good friend, and crave that kind of friendship with you, as well.

My old boss was an Ironman, very dedicated to fitness and competitive events. On our team of about 10, there was another fitness buff, and they would go for runs together. It wasn’t long before the murmurings of favoritism started to impact morale, engagement, and productivity. They went ignored for a bit of time. This particular account manager was also enjoying a great amount of success in earning new accounts. It could have been his great attitude, aided by his good physical health and confidence. It could have been how much more he was enjoying his work, having a great relationship with his boss. Even if there was 0 correlation between this buddyhood and his success, there was the perception that there was. Thankfully, my boss was working with the same coach our company made available to us all, and he was mindful and considerate of this concern.

His solution was to give the other team members equal opportunity to socialize with him after work hours and when the team performance warranted, he instituted a happy hour at the office. He brought in a couple of six-packs and we had beers together – a limit of two, for liability’s sake. This was one of several ideas proposed and voted on by the team.

Find the things you like in common with each of your team members, and make time to do them together. Propose that you do some “1:1 team-building” during lunch hours or before/after work.

Be aware of unreasonable requests for time outside of normal working hours, however. Also, stay mindful of how much time during work you spend chit-chatting with your friend and allocate equal time for everyone.

9. When They Don’t Share Your Good Opinion of the Company

For you, the company is a great place to work, which is why you wanted to share the wealth with your friend. However, it is apparently not great for everyone. Perhaps it’s better for managers than it is for non-managers. Perhaps the structure you appreciate is inhibiting your friend’s strengths. Perhaps his or her lifestyle doesn’t work as well with the company hours or flex-time policies.

If your friend decides that the company isn’t the great career move you thought it would be, there can be impacts on your friendship.  It’s even possible they’ll think they were better off where they were before you convinced them to join you. Once a change like that is done, it generally can’t be undone, at least without some apologizing and groveling. I hope if you find yourself in this situation that your friend is forgiving and honest as opposed to secretive and resentful. And, I hope that you have ample notice of their departure so that you can backfill the position and your mistake doesn’t impact operations and reflect poorly on you.

Sometimes revelations from your friend can taint your once-favoring opinion of the company. You may start to see things you were blind to, and you can’t then unsee them.  They may also form opinions about people – people you manage. Be very careful that this doesn’t create biases.

10. When You’re Ready to Move On

Do you owe it to your friend to fill them in on your aspirations to leave? Do you trust that if you do reveal your plan it will stay between the two of you and not get leaked to other team members or your boss prematurely?

If your team finds out your friend new first, will they be salty about it?

Is there a reasonable amount of time after hiring your friend that you are obligated to stay?

Whether your decision is career-motivated, situation-motivated, money-motivated, or lifestyle-motivated, you risk that your friend will feel left behind, unconsidered, and even betrayed.

People may vary in their advice for these situations, but these are hard questions, and there is no one right answer. You may have to ask yourself these questions if you decide to hire your friend.

Hiding anything from someone who knows you well is much harder to do and get away with.

Other situations that can be very hard to navigate include when you know that a layoff is coming but can’t tell anyone, including the person you tell everything. And, when you get fired and your friend gets your job.


As you can see, there’s a lot to consider!

If you are a job seeker wondering why your friends won’t help you or hire you, consider that it might be a blessing in disguise and the best thing your friend can do for your friendship in the long-term.

What sticky situations have you been in with friends at work?

Dionne Warwick – That’s What Friends Are For Dionne Warwick’s official music video for ‘That’s What Friends Are For’ ft. Elton John, Gladys Knight & Stevie Wonder. Click to listen to Dionne Warwick on Spotify: As featured on Love Songs.

Karen Huller, author of Laser-sharp Career Focus: Pinpoint your Purpose and Passion in 30 Days (, is founder of Epic Careering, a 13-year-old leadership and career development firm specializing in executive branding and conscious culture, as well as JoMo Rising, LLC, a workflow gamification company that turns work into productive play. 

While the bulk of her 20 years of professional experience has been within the recruiting and employment industry, her publications, presentations, and coaching also draw from experience in personal development, performance, broadcasting, marketing, and sales. 

Karen was one of the first LinkedIn trainers and is known widely for her ability to identify and develop new trends in hiring and careering. She is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Certified Career Transition Consultant, and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist with a Bachelor of Art in Communication Studies and Theater from Ursinus College and a minor in Creative Writing. Her blog was recognized as a top 100 career blog worldwide by Feedspot. 

She is an Adjunct Professor in Cabrini University’s Communications Department and previously was an Adjunct Professor of Career Management and Professional Development at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business  She is also an Instructor for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy where some of her students won the 2018 national competition, were named America’s Next Top Young Entrepreneurs, and won the 2019 People’s Choice Award. 

Think What Happened To Elon Musk Won’t Happen to You? Think Again!

Reverse Engineering Internal Sabotage for Prevention [Part 1 of 3]

SpaceX Discovery Fire

Discovery Fire Galaxy 2016

The Tesla sabotage incident Elon Musk made the world aware of last week raises a few great questions.

  1. How does somebody who would be inclined and capable of sabotaging your company get into your company, and how can you prevent that?
  2. How can you choose the right person for promotion, but still make sure that those who didn’t receive a promotion stay engaged and working in the company‘s best interests?
  3. Once you know that your hiring process allowed a saboteur to get through the screening process, how do you make sure that the rest of your workforce is on the up and up without insulting knows of higher values and morals?

All great questions, but we’re going to focus on #1 today and tackle the other two in subsequent posts.

If you took a look at Tesla’s Glassdoor profile, you’d see that they rate highly, at 3.4 out of 5 stars, but only 57% would recommend Tesla as an employer to a friend.

Overall, people are in it for the mission of disrupting the energy and transportation industries, and 85% approve of the job Elon Musk is doing. The common complaints, however, are lack of work/life balance – long hours with minimal pay and inflexible attendance policies. The benefits are not quite making up for the lack in fair pay, either. Plus, lack of procedures are making employees feel like they can’t even be efficient in the time they spend there.

Apparently, people get fired unexpectedly and are given little to no feedback on their performance. Also, one employee reports that it’s rare to be recognized, even if you’ve achieved the “impossible;” it just becomes the standard expectation from that point forward. They are letting go 9% of their salaried workforce (outside of production) to cut costs. They also are churning through people who find it hard to stay more than a couple years.

Musk knew when he decided to step up and disrupt very wealthy and powerful industries that he would become a target. However, with the workforce complaints piling up, I wonder why he didn’t see an internal attack coming.

Perhaps he isn’t familiar with altruistic punishment – a reaction embedded in our brain that gets triggered when a person believes he/she or someone else is being treated unfairly. Why did nature install this type of reaction in our brain? To promote cooperation that supports the evolution of our species.

In answer to #1, biologically, science has proven all human beings are capable of inflicting harm on someone who has treated others unfairly. It stands to reason that people have varying thresholds.

I think of Clark Griswold when I think of altruistic punishment. It hardly matters what National Lampoons movie you choose. He always had the best of intentions to show his family a great time and make meaningful memories. When other people’s shenanigans and acts of God threatened to sabotage his plans, he felt fully justified in breaking laws and violating other people’s safety and/or property to achieve his well-intentioned mission. In the end, people admitted that they were being unfair and Clark and his family got away without punishment and with amazing memories that brought them closer together as a family. Good times. I don’t see the Tesla employee enjoying such a happy ending, but maybe.

I’m sure Musk has his own justifications for keeping things the way they are – in order to be profitable, the company has to produce 5,000 Model 3s each week. People have proposed that he be stripped of his Board Chairman position. The company’s shares are worth 16% now than they were last year at this time. No doubt, Musk is under a lot of pressure to control costs and boost production to survive as a company and achieve his mission. I’m sure employee belief in the mission is the thing that Musk was depending on to get him and his over-stretched workforce through these challenges. Unfortunately for Musk and his mission, it wasn’t enough, and the costs have been extremely prohibitive, though he still remains certain that he will achieve his production goals.

Yes, Musk confessed to sleeping at the factory. I’m sure he wants his workforce to see him as a model employee, to see that he’s willing to put in every drop of his effort and time for the sake of his mission. Can he really expect them to show the same level of commitment AND perform, stay, endure with few perks to their lifestyle? Once they have been hired by any of his companies, they become premier talent for the taking.

He suspects the jilted employee was collaborating with someone associated with Wall Street or the industries he’s disrupting.

Here’s the thing: if you were losing or stood to lose millions of dollars with the widespread production and purchase of solar/electric vehicles, and you knew that many employees were unhappy with the conditions under which they work, might it occur to you to convert an employee into an accomplice?

Not all companies have such enemies, but they do (or will) have competition.

Out of curiosity, I scooted over to Elon Musk’s other companies’ Glassdoor profiles to see what was said about them. I had heard that a recent graduate I know received an offer to work for SpaceX, but turned it down because it required 70 hours per week. SpaceX is very highly rated at 4.4 out of 5 stars, and Musk’s approval rating is even higher at 97%! It seems that even though lack of work/life balance is still a very common complaint, improvements have been made since 2015. So far, though, it looks like the mission and the high caliber of talent is keeping the workforce going. It’s been rated a top place to work for 2018.

I headed over to SolarCity, which has been part of Tesla since 2016 and is being led by Lyndon Rive. As you might expect, lack of work/life balance is the #1 complaint, but other common complaints are also poor training and lack of communication from executives. It also seems that background checks are quite extensive. One employee waited 12 weeks for verification. This was while the company was part of Tesla, and before the saboteur came out with his confession. I wonder if the saboteur made it through the same comprehensive and stringent background checking, yet still wound up wanting retribution.

So, should you tweak your hiring practices to include measuring the altruistic punishment threshold of potential employees, or should you address workforce complaints to the best of your ability?

It seems to me that sound, fair workforce cultures and policies are the best way to prevent internal sabotage. These are fixable problems!

If I were a shareholder, I’d be highly skeptical that the company could become profitable by cutting the workforce outside of production while doubling production.

I wonder how the costs of attrition, lack of efficiency, quality issues, and extensive internal sabotage rack up against the costs of more flexible work days, increased monetary incentives, improved feedback and communication, and career planning. Could Musk have avoided quality issues, delayed launches, sabotage and having to do a workforce reduction if he invested in solving the issues affecting his people?

As much of a visionary as I can agree Elon Musk is, it seems his eyes are on the prize and not his people. This is a strategic failure I hope doesn’t result in the combustion of his company, especially as new competitors emerge regularly.

One employee already stated that he feels everyone fears that the company is one disaster away from imploding. Could it be?

Is your company at risk of a similar fate?

If you answer yes to any of the questions below, then your company is at risk.

Please nominate your company for a workforce audit (all submissions are confidential!) by e-mailing us with your company’s name and the name(s), direct e-mail address(es) and direct phone number(s) to any and all contacts who would be the most logical point(s) of contact. C-level executives are logical points of contact, but so are majority shareholders and Vice Presidents empowered to make workforce investments.

  • Does your company put profit above people?
  • Do your executive leaders seem inaccessible and lack transparency?
  • Would you consider the working conditions to be inhumane and/or counter-productive?
  • Do they fail to acknowledge achievements?
  • Are your performance evaluations lacking in clarity on what you can improve or how you can grow?
  • Do they fail to give you feedback or deliver it harshly?
  • Is unprofessional behavior tolerated?
  • Does it seem certain kinds of people always get the promotions?
  • Are initiatives lacking in funding while executives take home healthy salaries and bonuses?
  • Does your boss play favorites?
  • Is communication one-way or non-existent
  • Are you fearful of what will happen if you make a mistake based on a history of punishment vs. development?

Beastie Boys – Sabotage

Music video by The Beastie Boys performing Sabotage. (C) 2009 Capitol Records, LLC

Karen Huller, author of Laser-sharp Career Focus: Pinpoint your Purpose and Passion in 30 Days (, is founder of Epic Careering, a corporate consulting and career management firm specializing in executive branding and conscious culture, as well as JoMo Rising, LLC, a workflow gamification company that turns work into productive play. 

While the bulk of her 20 years of professional experience has been within the recruiting and employment industry, her publications, presentations, and coaching also draw from experience in personal development, performance, broadcasting, marketing, and sales. 

Karen was one of the first LinkedIn trainers and is known widely for her ability to identify and develop new trends in hiring and careering. She is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer and Certified Career Transition Consultant and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist with a Bachelor of Art in Communication Studies and Theater from Ursinus College and a minor in Creative Writing. Her blog was recognized as a top 100 career blog worldwide by Feedspot. 

She was an Adjunct Professor of Career Management and Professional Development at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business and recently instructed for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy at Cabrini College, where her students won the national competition and were named America’s Top Young Entrepreneurs.

Celebrating 11 Years

Thank You by Andrew Bowden of Flickr

Ten years is usually the big milestone, and it was, but 11 is my lucky number and the year that I had been most excited to reach – a second decade in business to celebrate.

Rather, what is more worthy of celebration are the people I have met, engaged, helped, supported and been supported by. Also, the challenges I have overcome and the self-limiting beliefs that I have busted are worthy of celebrating.

I was very busy with business, grading, and preparing for my first destination girls’ trip (a celebration of the year my high school friends and I turn 40) on my anniversary, that I forgot to acknowledge it on the actual day, June 1st, prior to leaving.

But I arrived before my friends in Hilton Head, SC, and as I lie in a lounge chair over looking palm trees and the warm, gentle, loving ocean, I was overwhelmed with gratitude.

  • I had hardly enough time to pack or sleep because my clients, mentors, and partners have been referring so many leads to me, and because now more clients engage me to work one-on-one with them throughout their campaign, a much larger investment, and more prospective clients are asking to speak with references.
  • I am so grateful for the myriad of former clients who are thrilled to share their story and genuinely want more people to have a happy ending/new beginning just like them.
  • I am grateful that I can spend money on a jaunt without worry that the well will run dry and I will soon regret spending that money, both because I have a full pipeline and because I have busted the belief that I am un-deserving, that the world is a place of cruel limits and lack, and that just when things are finally going well, tragedy will strike.

These beliefs kept me from fully spreading my wings, and while my wings are still not as fully expansive as they can become, they are FAR wider than ever before.

  • I trust in God and the Universe.
  • I know that I am deserving of success, happiness and wealth, and the world is abundant in resources and possibility, as long as I am resourceful and open to possibility.

My 40s and this second decade of business are looking to be my most exciting and adventurous years yet, and I have had quite an exciting and adventurous life so far. But, again, it is not about the years, it is about the people.

  • I first have to thank my husband, without whom I could not have been able to stay in business this long, and most definitely would not have been able to be home with my daughters.
  • I want to thank my parents. Even though I probably would have started a business without their blessing, I was both surprised and relieved to gain their support from the beginning through now.
  • Thank you my former BNI referral partners with whom I still keep in touch and some who still refer clients eight years later. You helped me hone my public speaking and networking skills, and supported my business during the most critical time in a business’s life and at a time when it was critical for me to have a strong business as I ventured into motherhood.
  • Thank you to the hundreds of LinkedIn Workshop for Jobseekers attendees. It was your feedback that enabled me to develop a much stronger curriculum.
  • Thank you to the people in the dozens of organizations who engaged me to speak. I found a new passion in public speaking and, now that my kids are older, see this as a primary platform going forward.
  • Thank you to my first clients who took a chance on a young, but ambitious and knowledgeable résumé writer and career coach who probably seemed like a baby to you.
  • Thank you to the clients who gave me a shot as a work-at-home mom. I was so scared of being perceived as unreliable that I was uber stressed all the time about keeping a regular schedule with my babies. I did not have a lot of time to work one-on-one with clients as I breastfed every three hours for 45 minutes. Though I was more diligent than ever with my schedule, if ever there was a snafu (baby won’t nap, explosive diaper incidents, illness, etc.) you were more patient and understanding than I could have imagined. Your patronage was so appreciated. You kept my business going.
  • Thank you to the clients who helped me test and launch new products and services. Helping you overcome your challenges was a reason to develop solutions that would help so many more.
  • Thank you to my interns and assistants. My management and mentoring experience before I started my business was minimal, but while I created new opportunities for you to grow, you also gave me the opportunity to see what kind of contributor I could be.
  • To my virtual experimental teams, who allowed me to test out new tools and processes while we learned along side each other, we may not have had the outcome we intended, but I can say that a lot was learned, and none of us were afraid to fail. For that we should be proud and I thank you. I will try again with new insights that will help future teams achieve more success.
  • To my former mastermind community, thank you for the virtually magic synchronicity that was created. Again, we may not have created a permanent group, but the momentum gained during that time had a permanent, compounding effect on my business. Thank you.
  • Thank you to all my clients who were willing to be vulnerable and honest with me, and trusted that I had your back and would be compassionate in my stand for your optimal outcome. You should be so proud of how you expanded your comfort zones, increased your life skill level and confidence, and grew empowered to create a future that makes the life you want possible. You ROCK in a very EPIC way.
  • To all the vendors who have helped me with marketing, graphic design, editing, transcription, sales funnels, and more, thank you.
  • A HUGE thanks to my current assistant, Angela, who has been with me two years supporting the most growth the business has ever experienced. Without your efforts, I could never have focused my time and attention on what really mattered, our clients and major strategic initiatives.
  • Of course, I thank my kids. To be honest, they seemed like an impediment to business a lot of the time. This might sound awful, but I used to feel immense pressure to compete with emerging coaches who had no tethers and could attend all the cool events and who started to “take” all the great speaking engagements. It took a while to grow in my own confidence, to see that I am a uniquely gifted coach, that my audience was not being “taken” by someone else, and that I am a FORCE of nature. That last one is something I learned from my kids, from overcoming the challenges that parenthood presented while conquering product development, plus business development, plus client delivery. I can now instill in other moms that it CAN be done.