Ask Dr. Levine | Relationship Advice

Zosia’s advice columnist, Irene S. Levine, PhD - a psychologist, professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine and award-winning journalist. She is widely considered the go-to expert on female friendship, and has been called the Dear Abby of Friendship.

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How Do I Address a Friend Slacking Off at Work?

How do I address a friend slacking off at work zosia advice column Irene Levine


Dear Dr. Levine,

I’ve recently been promoted at work and I’m now supervising a colleague who once was a peer. It feels like my co-worker is taking advantage of our friendship.

We used to work side-by-side on the same team and everything felt collegial. We always collaborated on projects seamlessly. Now when I ask for her help, she doesn’t seem to take me seriously. I also notice that she’s been spending more time texting on her personal cellphone and socializing with other staff than she did in the past.

I recently assigned her two discrete analytic tasks with deadlines set by managers above me. Not only did she fail to complete the tasks, she never even apologized for the delays. She brushed it off saying the work was taking longer than she anticipated. As a result, I had to spend a good part of my weekend playing catch-up to get the assignments completed on time.

My promotion seems to have really put a strain on our relationship and it almost feels as if my friend is purposely undermining me. How do I address her slacking off in her work?

Signed, Janice

Dr. Levine Says:

Dear Janice,

Congratulations on your promotion! Switching roles from a co-worker to being a supervisor is often tricky. Such a change is likely to be even more challenging if your friendship was a close one extending beyond the workplace.

My suggestion would be to explicitly formalize your new relationship at work by scheduling a one-on-one with your friend. Acknowledge that you value your friendship but simultaneously, explain that since you are now responsible for her performance as well as that of others on your team, you need to treat everyone equitably without showing any favoritism. Ask for her help in maintaining appropriate boundaries at work.

Recognize that this new way of relating will be an adjustment for you both. With time, the “slacking off” problem may, in fact, resolve itself and your friendship may turn out to be an asset rather than a liability. 

If problems persist, try to assess why they’re occurring. Could it be that you’re now viewing your friend’s performance through a different lens, and simply weren’t previously aware of her weaknesses/shortcomings? Or could it be that your friend still harbors some jealousy or resentment that she was passed over for a promotion she felt she deserved? If you continue to feel that your friend is taking advantage of you, point out specific infractions as they occur. Your friend may not even be aware of her transgressions.

This change in the relationship may feel like a loss to you as well. As a new supervisor, it might be helpful to share your concerns with your own boss or a trusted mentor, and seek advice on when and how to tackle this or any other personnel problems that crop up.

Because we typically spend so much time at work and already have much in common with co-workers, workplaces are often conducive to forging close friendships. While friendships can be a valuable perk of the workplace, remember your primary responsibility is to the employer who is signing your paycheck.

  • Chartz Gutierrez De Pineres/Unsplash

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