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AdviceHey, Bonita!

Friendly Coworker is My Boss Now

Hey Bonita,

I work for a small business with very few employees, and I really love my job. Recently, though, my coworker friend has moved up in the ranks and is now owner of the business, i.e. my boss.  At first I really didn’t think our relationship would change, since we get along so well, but there’s been a definite shift. I obviously can’t joke around with them in the same way I can with other friends, but it’s different in more serious ways, too.  

I now feel on edge knowing all the personal things I’ve shared that I fear could be held against me when things like raises or promotions come up. I don’t think I would have spoken about my disabilities with them if I knew they would eventually be my boss, but now it’s clearly too late.  The worst part is that I’m at a point where I desperately need a raise. Like most everyone, my bills have gone up and up, and what I’ve been making is no longer a living wage.

I don’t think I’m wrong in surmising that I can no longer be their friend given the power differential that exists now, but how do I run damage control in this situation? What is the best way to establish some distance without being too cold, and how do I put my foot down about my paycheck to someone I’ve had deep, revealing personal conversations with?

Sincerely,

Worried Worker

What up Worried Worker,

Holy moly, I have been in this exact same position, and it absolutely, positively did not work out well for me. I’m not trying to scare you, but you are smart for thinking about this before something happens and things snowball out of your control. If I’d had the hindsight I have now, I would have just spoken to my buddy about the change in our dynamic and my desire to continue being their friend, as naive as that is. Nowadays, I honestly can’t say if I think it’s possible to be a true friend to your supervisor, but it’s probably easier if two people already have a foundation of friendship that was built during a time when their dynamic was more equal. At the end of the day, a manager works in the interest of the business that employs them, and they will definitely fire anyone if it’s in the best interest of the company. We should all be strategic in our relationships with people who wield power like that over us. I wasn’t, and I still feel the effects of that falling out today.  

Your best damage control will include remaining genial and professional around your manager/ex-friend, and requesting a pay increase at a small business in THIS economy will be tricky no matter what. A lot of places are seeing the writing on the wall and are finally offering raises, but some small companies just don’t have the ability. There is also a chance that they would hire someone new with less experience for a lower rate of pay before giving you a raise, so I recommend that you cover your bases and start searching for a new job. Some places offer raises when an employee comes to them with a better job offer from another company, and if they don’t, then yay! You’d have a new, better job to go to anyway. Just make sure that you’ve actually been offered a new job before using it to get better pay from your current workplace.  Don’t make empty threats that will leave you unemployed.

I want to encourage you to put yourself first in this situation and not to let the demise of this friendship make you feel guilty about possibly leaving a low-paying job that does not meet your needs. Bad workplaces count on workers who feel beholden to those jobs to stick around long past the point of no return. You are making a fair trade of your time and energy for money, and you owe your workplace nothing after you clock out. The future of your friendship with this manager might be up in the air, but it is in your interest to search for greener pastures.

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