Working with family and friends: How to minimise the feuds and keep things friendly

Working with family and friends: How to minimise the feuds and keep things friendly

There is divided opinion about hiring friends and family for work. Is it a good thing for business? 

We tend to wonder because of the whiff of nepotism, although in companies that aren’t publicly listed, there’s little one can do about this, especially if profits seem healthy. And for some it is a source of big pride to have a family business “& Sons” and sometimes “& Daughter”.

But just because we are friends and family doesn’t mean we are mind readers, best workmates and share goals! What we do have is a firm relationship to build on so let’s make that work.

There is no one answer to the pros and cons of employing friends and family; however, it pays to observe the following:

Do (if you’re the decision-maker):

  • Be honest, transparent and above-board about the reasons for hiring this person (even if you’re the company owner) and why/how you plan to work together.
  • Set the same KPIs, bonuses and expectations for this person as you would for all employees.
  • Make it clear that there are no short-cuts to your undivided attention or reward scheme – all advances are strictly on merit.
  • Give clear guidelines about giving and receiving feedback – and be a role model.
  • State that grievances (especially deep-festering ones of the family or old friend variety) must go through a carefully determined and thoughtful process, and ensure that someone impartial (not you) mediates the problem.
  • Expect to feel a little isolated – by being in charge, you are by definition slightly removed from the others – exercise your role with insight, firmness and compassion.
  • Have fun with that person – but build relationships with others at work so this is not an isolated special fun person.
  • Don’t discuss business at every private/family/social opportunity, especially when others would love another part of you!

Do (if you’re the friend/family member):

  • Be ready to put in the time and energy the role requires, same as you would for any similar position.
  • Put aside your casual relationship and focus on work output – no place for gripes, grudges or time-wasting on personal issues during office hours.
  • Irrespective of your feelings concerning the boss who put you there, remember that building a company is a shared goal, so work out how to help build the business, not undermine.
  • Remember that you are not “owed” anything, just because you’re related or knew the hirer since birth (yours or theirs).
  • Be prepared to account for yourself and demonstrate initiative, goodwill and tact.
  • Demonstrate your hard work to all, contribute to the team, be loyal and above all logical!
  • Give feedback as you would to any other manager – focus on facts that impact your work performance. And do it in work hours. Keep your friendship fresh and positive.

If you’re the decision-maker – don’t:

  • Always expect your family member/friend to read your mind and motives better than the others.
  • Presume on your relationship and make assumptions (e.g. demand more of that person for less money, etc).
  • Allow some things to go past you just because “it’s Liam/Juanita” after all.
  • Permit feuds, conundrums, idiosyncrasies to dominate the work environment in such a way that others get annoyed.
  • Cover for people’s failings beyond a certain point (i.e. as above, have the same rules and conventions for all staff).
  • Set unreasonable parameters around tasks just because Liam/Juanita was once dux of their school.
  • Let pettiness govern your motives.
  • Give favours to your loved one, don’t always go off to coffee or lunch together and ignore the impact on others.

If you’re working for a friend/family member – don’t:

  • Silently expect that they will cover for you if you stuff up.
  • Pout if they’re a little more impersonal than you’d like (it’s to protect you both).
  • Let resentment govern YOUR motives (e.g. jealousy of the friend/family member who built up a successful business).
  • Take advantage of your relationship in any way – show how you can both work to your strengths.
  • Sneakily use your job to feather your nest in some way (because you feel you’re “owed” something).
  • Allow things to fester – if you have a grievance, seek redress calmly and stick to the facts.
  • Expect more pay – if you believe you merit more, be ready to show evidence.
  • Work yourself to the bone for unreasonable and unfair pay.

Above all, no matter which side of the fence – COMMUNICATE! Don’t get into a habit of censoring your communications because you ‘know’ that person ‘all too well’ and ‘know how they will react’. Create a positive working relationship.

And remember a culture is made up of people. Create a fun culture for all to enjoy – family or friends or newcomer strangers.

Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.


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