Undermined at Work by a "Friend"

08/11/2011 02:18 pm ET | Updated Oct 11, 2011

Friendships carry risks when they unravel and this is particularly true in the workplace. Yet, we spend so much of our lives at work that it's natural we would develop close friendships there.


Hello Irene,

I know that you have addressed work friendships in the past, but I am wondering if you can address the issue of friendships between women who are at different levels of the work hierarchy.

I became friendly with an employee who was hired to report to me. She had no background in our field and I had a long educational and professional background so part of my job was to provide on the job training for her. We would see each other socially and I would give her a very nice Christmas gift each year. Over the years, I felt she was slipping in some of her work effort due to our friendship, but when I would bring up issues in what I felt was a constructive way, she would blow it off and in my opinion used the friendship to get out of doing things, leaving me to cover for her.

I told my supervisor that I was having this issue, and was told to keep working on it for the good of the department, but my supervisor did not intervene. Things came to a head recently when my friend went to my supervisor and said that she was too busy to do the items on her job description, and the supervisor said that I would need to take over that part of the job. I hold a terminal degree in my field and those particular duties are not related to the job I hold at this firm. She then said if I did not want to do the duties I would be replaced. (I should mention that during this time that as our friendship cooled, my supervisor and the employee who reports to me became close friends.)

Is this situation salvageable? What can I do to avoid this sort of mess next time around?

Signed, Julie


Hi Julie,

I don't think you did anything particularly wrong -- except, perhaps, to misjudge your friend's character. She turned out to be an irresponsible and disloyal employee who took advantage of your friendship. In hindsight, you recognize that this pattern was building up over time. You probably should have stepped back from the friendship sooner and had some frank discussions with her -- if you saw it interfering with your ability to supervise and accomplish your job.

It was wrong of your friend to do an end run and go over your head. It doesn't sound like your supervisor handled this well either; she was probably manipulated by this once-friend as you were. Your supervisor's actions have made it virtually impossible for you to supervise your friend any more and have diminished your role in the organization. This is not a good situation. While the friendship may not be salvageable, the work situation may be.

This sequence of events has to be very upsetting, let alone in a depressed job market when it is so difficult to make career changes. Is there a human resources office with someone to whom you can speak, in confidence, who might be able to mediate this situation or give you advice? Is your organization large enough so that there might be some mobility within it that would allow you to work for a different supervisor or in a different unit?

Try to stay calm and cool in the office during this very stressful period as you focus on making the best of your job. Make sure you keep your life is in balance, too, and carve out time to spend with more trustworthy friends outside of the office.
Hope this helps.

My best,

Other posts on friendships at work on The Friendship Blog that may be relevant: