Peter LaSaffre wrote an enlightening piece for Fortune recently about the drawbacks of entrepreneurs hiring friends. Sure, it sounds like a nice enough idea at first. You already get along so well and know each others’ quirks, so working together will be a piece of cake, right? Wrong.
LaSaffre says “Hiring friends is a lose-lose situation…the day that you hire one of your pals will also turn out to be the day that you’re no longer friends.” He’s absolutely right in most cases. We’ll explain why.
The rocky transition from buddy to boss
You’re buddies now, but once you become the boss, that friendship will be seriously strained. It will be difficult to transition from taking family vacations together, meeting for drinks on the weekends, and going to sporting events together to them taking work orders from you.
Not only will they feel strange about treating you as an authority figure, but you’ll also feel awkward in the leadership position when they know you so intimately. They’ve seen you scream at the TV during a heated ball game and get too tipsy at a party on more than one occasion. Asking your friend to view you as their boss while remaining friends is difficult for all these reasons.
The unequal power balance
Friendships are based on an equal balance of power and authority – healthy ones, anyway. When one of you is the boss and the other is an employee, things are bound to get hairy. Suddenly, they must ask your permission before taking action at work when they’re used to joking around with you. Certain topics and discussions common in friendships become taboo to discuss around you – playing hooky from work, hating the job, etc.
When you throw off the power balance in a friendship, either both parties will engage in a power struggle or the friendship will dissipate. Neither option is a positive thing.
Just as Benjamin Franklin said, “Lend money to an enemy, and thou will gain him; To a friend, and thou will lose him.” Putting yourself in the Lender position is a lot like putting yourself in the Boss position. It throws off the power balance and wrecks the relationship.
Instead, just avoid hiring friends to work at your company. Keep them involved in the business – ask for advice, report milestones and updates, and accept their offers to volunteer for small tasks – but don’t hire them.
What if I already hired a friend?
If you’ve already made the mistake of hiring friends, it’s not too late to salvage both your working and personal relationship. Set clear expectations early on and don’t be afraid to have those difficult or awkward conversations about who’s in charge at the office.
LaSaffre closed his article with this statement: “When hiring friends, setting expectations early on is key, otherwise, boundaries will be blurred and lines will be crossed.” Define the lines that shouldn’t be crossed at work and be clear about your boundaries. Express your desire to keep the friendship, but make it clear that any unprofessional behavior or interaction should be kept outside of the office.
If you can avoid hiring friends, by all means, avoid it. If it’s your friend who is really interested in working for you, explain your reasoning to him.
You’re not against working with him – you just don’t want to be his boss because you value and treasure the existing friendship you have. Show skeptical friends this article to help drive the point home!