Any business owner who has hired employees for their small business has likely grappled with this question at one time or another: should you hire a friend? Perhaps your bestie has just been made redundant, you know that old friend from university is job hunting, or you can think of someone in your extended social circle who would be amazing at a particular job. But should you do it?
As with so many things in business, there is no straightforward yes or no answer. The real answer is “maybe” or “it depends”.
Let’s look at some things to consider before you hire your friend (or decide not to).
Are they actually the best person for the job?
It can be so tempting to eschew good hiring practices and pass over a more qualified applicant in favour of helping out a mate who needs a job. But if they’re not a qualified candidate anyway? Steer clear. You might be doing them a favour in the short term, but hiring someone who is badly suited to the role will lead to stress for all concerned, resentment, and poor quality work.
If you’re not sure whether your friend is truly qualified, ask yourself something like this: if I didn’t have all those great memories of nights out on the town with them, would I be seriously considering this person as a candidate for this job? If the answer is no, move along to the next CV.
How much do you know about them as a worker?
You can know someone extremely well on a personal level, but if you’ve never worked with them, you have no idea what they’re like as an employee or coworker. This has been proven by just how many people are shocked by what their spouse is like at work since being stuck working from home with them.
There might be circumstances where you do have a good sense of what a friend would be like to work with. For example, maybe you took classes together and you saw that they were diligent, hard working, and a great communicator. But if you don’t know anything about what they’re like at work, tread very carefully. At a minimum, seek out impartial referees like a past manager or former coworker.
How’s your communication?
Is this person a “talk to about anything” friend, or more of a surface-level acquaintance? Before you work with a friend, you’ll want to have a very good handle on their communication style. For example, how do they handle conflict? Someone who is prone to losing their temper is not someone you want on your staff.
How do the two of you handle tough conversations? For example, have you seen that this person has a track record of being able to handle constructive criticism well, adjust their behaviour based on feedback, and be receptive to others’ input without becoming defensive?
If you’re not sure, ask yourself this: would I feel comfortable giving this person critical feedback, telling them their performance isn’t up to scratch, or giving them a warning? If your first reaction is “I couldn’t do that to my friend,” then don’t hire a friend.
How will you keep things fair?
Assuming you have multiple employees, you as the boss or business owner cannot be seen to have favourites. Even if the new hire is your best friend in the entire world outside of work, you can’t treat them with undue favouritism in the office.
If your other employees see you being excessively lenient about behaviour that others wouldn’t get away with, giving all the best projects to your friend, or paying them a higher salary, resentment and frustration will soon set in. The result? Your best people will stop making an effort and may even decide to leave. Oh, and you’ll get a reputation as the employer who displays blatant favouritism at work.
There’s a flip side to this, too. Some people who hire a friend become so preoccupied with avoiding the perception of favouritism that their friend/employee ends up not getting the kinds of opportunities their hard work deserves.
How will you handle it if one of you terminates the professional relationship?
If you have to fire your friend, the chances that your relationship will ever recover are very slim. But what if you have to let them go through no fault of theirs, such as due to budgetary constraints, a change of company direction, or even your business clothing down? If you don’t think they’d be understanding of the fact that business isn’t personal, don’t take the risk.
Conversely, what if they decide to leave for a better opportunity, more pay, or just a change of scene? Will you be able to handle that, wish them well, and continue being friends? If not, don’t do it. You’ll just end up in a situation where one or both of you feel like your friendship is being held hostage by your business relationship.
Can you handle your relationship changing?
Because it will.
You can’t hire someone to work at your company, effectively becoming their boss, and expect your relationship to stay the same. If you don’t want your friendship to change or don’t think it can handle the inevitable period of weirdness while you both get used to working together, don’t hire a friend.
Have you hired a friend?
Did it go well, or was it a disaster? Got any heartwarming tales or horror stories for us? Tell us all about it!