One of the things I was excited about when I began in business was the idea that I could help out people I know by giving them work. How nice to be able to share my success in a way that would help the people I care about. How lovely to be able to work with people I already get along with. How great to be able to give back some of the support they gave me, that enabled me to get this far with the business. How convenient that they would already understand how much I care about the product and the company image. More than anything, how wonderful that they care about me and so would care about my business.
That’s the unwritten code, isn’t it? The best of all hopes.
Reality sometimes bites.
Here are six ways hiring a friend into your own business might not work out the way you hoped.
They feel entitled to give advice outside their role.
No matter what position they are in, they rightly feel they have the ear of the boss. They will suddenly feel able to advise you on all sorts of issues whether or not they have access to the figures, or any previous experience in your business. It’s what they usually do as part of your social circle, after all.
Sometimes this can be useful, but mostly it’s a pain to have another person to have to catch up to speed with the background details and then run through your justifications with, especially if it’s in an area you didn’t hire them to help with. In a small business this is precious time wasted. Where another employee would be okay with a ‘thank you’ and then get on with their own job, your friend will feel entitled to explanations and conversations. After all, they only care about you and are trying to help. Understanding that their role is limited is one of the hardest parts of being the friend employee, as it is a mental shift to suddenly not be asked to weigh in on all sorts of issues in your life.
They feel they can question you and/or argue with you.
Somewhat related to the previous point. The fact your friend is already comfortable with you and used to discussion and disagreement with you can mean that they engage in this when it isn’t really needed or appropriate. Doing this in front of other employees can undermine both your authority and your credibility, in your own business. Even if you already listen to employees and explore business issues with them, maintaining the understanding that you have the final say is important, and a friend questioning you all the time erodes that.
They will take liberties.
You are their friend, so they won’t worry so much about being late or letting you down. You hope that the opposite will be true because it’s your pride-and-joy business, but in the end they just aren’t scared of consequences the way they are in other jobs. I’ve had friends cancel or move work shifts because they need to take their mother out, someone else offered them work on that date, or they’re feeling a bit poorly. The same friends that I’ve watched turn up to a minimum wage job practically dying of flu, turn down better freelance offers to show professionalism about prior commitments, or refuse to swop shifts for a night out because they were worried about annoying the boss. They are not worried about annoying you, and that translates to screwing you around when it comes to work ethics. And chances are you won’t feel able to say anything in case it ruins your friendship.
They take criticism badly.
Okay, so everyone has problems with criticism, but your friend will take it all personally. Often a short conversation about poor performance and a couple of suggestions is enough to bring a struggling employee back on board. You’re the boss, they recognise that it’s your job to keep everyone pulling together properly to achieve results. But your friend has to get her head around the idea that your previously equal relationship has turned into something where they are the underdog and now they need to listen to you correcting them. And they’ve seen you screw up life sometimes, so who are you to be correcting them?
The worst of all scenarios, when it isn’t working out and you have to let them go, is even trickier to deal with well. How can you dissolve a work relationship without straining a friendship? There’s no real answer. Extreme adulting required from both sides!
There is a good chance you will allow your business to suffer for a while before you will properly deal with a friend employee who is not pulling their weight, not coping, or just not fitting in. That’s not good for business!
Nepotism is real, even if only perceived.
You may be tempted to treat them more leniently or favourably than other employees. Even if you work hard for this not to be the case, it may happen without you noticing it. Even if you manage not to treat them any differently at all, others will assume it is happening. At the extreme end this favourable treatment is illegal, and even if it’s not happening at all the seeds of doubt will always be present in the minds of other employees, possibly eroding morale, company culture, or just a general sense of fairness.
Company secrets will get out.
It’s a normal part of socialising to talk occasionally about work, often even with sensitive information. Sometimes for solidarity, sometimes to wow your audience with a minor scandal, and sometimes just to show you’re on the inside track by conspiratorially letting some secret info out. However, when those are your business secrets , client information, or the inner workings of your own company, and that’s your friend telling everyone, recovering your business credibility will probably be much easier than recovering the friendship from what will feel like huge betrayal.
In all, it’s easier to avoid these issues by not hiring friends and family at all, but at the very least you should be aware of them so you can keep a close eye on potential problems.