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  • Writer's pictureGigi Fergus, MBA, BSN, RN

I’m not your friend, I’m your boss.

Updated: Aug 14, 2020

Being a newly promoted manager is difficult. Here are some HR landmines to avoid.

A few years ago, I was speaking with a staff member who continuously referred to Administration as “they.” “We were doing our jobs just fine then ‘they’ changed the policy and now we have to take 8 more steps just to complete the same work. It’s ridiculous! ‘They’ couldn’t do our job if they tried!” After learning the process change from the staff member, I offered to investigate the situation and determine what had prompted the change. On the way back to my office it dawned on me: I was the ‘they’! I was Administration. I had crossed over to the status of one of ‘them’ when I had always considered myself to be one of ‘us.’

Making the leap from staff to management can feel more like bridging a chasm than jumping over a puddle. In the blink of an eye, the employee goes from being a hard-working, high-quality employee that is well-respected by their peers to being reviled, not trusted, and exiled. It’s awkward at best.

One of the most common mistakes that new supervisors/managers make is trying to maintain personal friendships with the staff. In this age of social connectedness, it is not uncommon to be friends on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or Instagram. The longer staff have worked with each other, the more common it is that they remain connected via these social outlets. Once an employee transitions to management, everything they knew or understood about their relationship with their peers changes. The new manager is no longer considered a friend. The new manager is the ‘they.’

Why is this such a difficult transition? What is wrong with being friends? When you are the supervisor/manager/boss, any friendships with staff members that you oversee result in whispers of nepotism and unfairness. “Suzie Q got her vacation approved but I didn’t because I don’t hang out with the boss.” New managers yearn to be approved and liked by their staff.

Along with preferential treatment (real or perceived), failure to hold staff (friends) accountable can be added to the list of pitfalls. Frankly, it’s uncomfortable to hold accountable a longstanding friend, especially when the new manager may have done the same actions as a staff member. Consistently, it is not unusual to find that problem staff members have been acting or performing inappropriately or not to standard for a long time yet there is no documentation in their files.

The most common response by staff who feel that they are above reprimand is to be defensive – almost retaliatory. Staff may tear up a write-up, storm out of the office, spread rumors to other staff, etc., proclaiming all the while at how unfair the situation is – even invoking “I thought we were friends!” Although managers are trained against retaliation, staff members are not. Again, it’s difficult to write up your buddy.

New managers are encouraged to adopt the following strategies when it comes to working with staff who they have been friends with for a long time:

1) Set the expectation for behavior and performance at the beginning: We can be friendly, but we are not friends. I’m your boss. This needs to be said in front of your entire staff.

2) Follow a consistent (HR-approved) pattern of dealing with issues. Typically, this includes coaching, counseling, verbal warning, written warning, suspension, then termination. There are several steps along the way for you to support your staff in doing the right things. Educate, orient, observe. Repeat.

3) Document, document, document. If there is no documentation, then there is no accountability. Create a consistent practice of documenting conversations with all staff.

4) Spend time with all staff – at work. Round frequently with the intention of speaking to everyone working at the time of your visit. This demonstrates that you are interested in everyone, not just seeing your friends.

5) Remove yourself from Facebook connections with staff. This one is really tough for some people. I will always allow connections through LinkedIn as it is a professional network. You can friend me on Facebook after I leave the facility and we are no longer in a supervisory relationship.

6) Do not party, go drinking, or hang out with staff. I have a strict 30-minute rule for attending staff parties – I go to be seen and interact with staff. Once I have spoken to everyone, it’s time to leave. This saves them and me from the awkwardness of making small talk.

7) Be fair and consistent with all staff, not just the ones you like. It’s easy to come down hard on someone you don’t like which deteriorates the rest of the staff’s trust and faith in you as a fair and equitable leader at the same time.

The most common set of landmines that new managers step on are the HR mines. Many new managers think that they know HR because they were staff – it’s the same, right? Wrong! Good managers will re-educate themselves. Best to arm yourself with the latest in HR practices that steer you clear of future issues. Find a good introductory HR class, attend a seminar, or have your HR department put on a short class for you and other new managers. Seek out guidance on HR issues with your supervisor, your HR department, or another manager colleague. Keeping the practices listed above in mind will augment and bolster your effectiveness as a manager.

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