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Keeping Work and Friendship Separate With Your Boss

Keeping Work and Friendship Separate With Your Boss

Joan Burge |

I received an e-mail from Dawn asking for advice on this subject. She said “My boss has become a good friend to our family and I have found it most challenging the past few years to separate business and friendship. It has affected my job performance and must get turned around. Advice?”

This is a fabulous topic and is challenging. When I was an executive assistant (before 1990), I had several job situations where I became good friends with my executives and their families. Here are just 2 examples.

The first situation was at one of my first jobs. I had a great career and loved my job and my boss. His name was Bob. I worked with him for a few years. I quickly became close to him, his wife, and their children. I was in my early 20s at the time and they somewhat had taken me under their wing for some reason. They lived out in the country in a suburb of Cleveland, Oh. It was not unusual for me to go to their house for dinners or visit. In fact, their little kids loved me and I even babysat some weekends.

Another scenario was when I worked for another top notch company. My executive’s name was John and he was phenomenal. I worked with John for about 3 years. I also became close to him, his wife, and their children. Sometimes we went out to dinner — the 2 couples; or I attended parties at their house.

I can also share with you that Jasmine and I are very close. She has been my strategic business partner for almost 3 years. I participate in some of her family events and her family is included in some of our events. Her kids and husband always go Trick or Treating with me, my kids, and my grandchildren. It’s our annual tradition. We love each others’ families and care about each other.

So how have I managed these relationships for more than 36 years?

1. When you are attending personal events such as a birthday party or cook out at the boss’s house, try to keep the conversation light and non-business related. In other words, have a good time and enjoy yourself. The only caution is don’t over-enjoy yourself and do something or say something that you might be embarrassed about in the office the next day or weeks after.

2. When at work, it’s fine to have some personal conversation throughout the day – such as, “How is your daughter doing? I know she wasn’t feeling well?” Or “Did your son, Mike, make it into that college he was interested in?” “How was the family vacation last week? Did you have a good time?” But remember . . . at the office, your top priority is to be an outstanding assistant and business always comes first.

Just as you are a bit stressed out by this situation, your manager may feel the same way. It is also difficult for a manager to separate business and friendship because if they have developed a good friendship with you and then they get an edict from upper management that they have to cut staff and let you go, it is problematic and difficult.

We had a situation whereby my husband, Dave, worked for a fabulous company for about 10 years and we became very close to the President and his wife and family. In fact, for years they invited us to their lake house in Atlanta every summer for a week. We became really good friends and so did our kids. Then, one day, the President had to let Dave go. We were adult enough to not hold bad feelings and we know “business is business,” but for some reason they felt weird and slowly pulled away from us.

I hope this helps. Dawn, if you want to write me more details about why you find it challenging, I will be happy to go deeper.

Good luck!

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