Blurred Lines: Potential Pitfalls of Hiring Friends and Family

On paper, hiring friends and family to work for you often seems like a great idea. You already know each other’s personalities, work ethics, strengths, and weaknesses and are able to easily communicate with each other about important topics or issues that arise. However, in practice, that’s not always how it works out.

Before you hire your college BFF or a younger sibling to come to work for you, it’s important to consider a few of the potential pitfalls of working with friends and family.

Other employees may see it as nepotism
One of the more obvious pitfalls of hiring friends and family is concerns of other employees seeing their job or treatment as nepotism. And even if you are careful to draw hard lines between work and personal relationships, there many ways of showing nepotism that you may not even realize. From the type of work they are assigned to the tone of voice you use with them, there are subtle expressions and actions that may not be obvious to you, but other employees will be hyperaware of such interactions.

The lines between work and personal life get blurred
Many people go to great lengths to draw an indelible line between where their work life ends and their personal life begins. From family relationships to personal interests to mental health, proper work-life balance significantly impacts our performance at work and overall quality of life. Hiring a friend or family member works against that separation because you’re essentially bringing your work and personal life closer together. Additionally, your relationship with the person will fundamentally change. From work conversations seeping into personal, non-work situations to the emotions surrounding a perceived hierarchy, trivial things you didn’t think would be a problem in the beginning, could grow and manifest into larger issues that throw off the balance you’ve created between your life inside and outside of the office.

Potential to take advantage of the relationship
Whether it’s intentional or inadvertent, because a personal relationship already exists with a friend or family member, it may be tempting for them to leverage it to their advantage. From more desirable projects to better shifts, it’s important to ensure other employees aren’t being overlooked or treated unfairly. And, on the flip side, because of your personal relationship, you also need to be cautious of overutilizing a friend or family member who works for you. If they become your “go-to” employee for all major projects, they’re more likely to burnout.

Personal relationships may be damaged if it doesn’t work out
Even people you’ve known your entire life can surprise you when you get to know them in a different context. Issues you never would have encountered outside of a work setting could manifest in surprising ways in a boss/employee relationship. Challenges of ego, misguided assumptions about what the work relationship would be like, or incompatible work ethics are all situations that normally wouldn’t necessarily present themselves outside the office. And, if not handled delicately, these issues can cause hurt feelings and resentment that could have long-term effects on your personal relationship with a friend or family member.

All that being said …
It’s not always a bad idea. There are certainly many people who have hired a friend or family member to work for them and it was a rewarding experience for all parties involved. In the end, if you hired them for the right reasons, you have a better chance for success.

If you’re considering hiring someone you already have a personal relationship with outside of work, here are a few important questions to ask yourself that may help put the decision in perspective and help prepare you for the potential pitfalls that could arise:

  • Are they qualified or are you simply trying to “do them a favor?”
    Although it may feel good to be able to help a friend in need, first and foremost, they have to be able do the work? If they are truly qualified for the job and have all the necessary skills and experience, there’s a better chance it will be a successful arrangement.
  • Do they fit the company culture?
    Just because you get along with them, it doesn’t mean other employees will, too. Ensuring a cultural fit is an important step for any new hire, but can be especially important when bringing on a close friend or relative.
  • Are you prepared to set and abide by boundaries?
    As long as both parties involved recognize there is a new dynamic in play and there is an understanding about the type of conduct that is expected when you’re “on the clock,” it’s possible to have a successful working relationship without harming the personal relationship.
  • Would you be able to discipline/terminate them, if necessary?
    Nothing draws a line in the sand between friend/family and being their boss quicker than having to discipline or terminate them. It’s a tricky situation to navigate, and one you need to be sure you’re prepared to address.

Have you ever hired a friend or family member to work for you? How did it work out? What are the pros? Cons? Let us know in the comments section below.

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6 Responses to Blurred Lines: Potential Pitfalls of Hiring Friends and Family

  1. PAT WYNNE February 5, 2019 at 7:13 am #

    I have done it in the past unless you as a supervisor must set boundaries between personal feelings and work ethics you can’t have both and cannot show favoritism which is bad for morale i would not reccomend hiring a relative or close friends!

  2. KEVIN KIBLER February 6, 2019 at 12:43 pm #

    I have hired many friends and family members in my career. I have experienced mixed results ranging from disaster to success. The disaster story: A friend of mine was unemployed and I had an entry level position open up so it seemed like a great opportunity to help him out. His attitude from the moment he started was I’m the bosses friend and it showed. He figured he could put off tasks that he didn’t want to do off on others. The success story: My son has worked for me for over 5 years now and is doing an amazing job. He has become one of my most productive employees. Due in most part to his desire to make me happy I believe. Not to say that I haven’t had to give him the stern finger wag from time to time. But overall he has worked out very well.
    I tell anyone I hire that is friend or family is that once we walk through the front gate our relationship is of a professional nature, outside the gate we’re family.
    I have mastered the art of leaving work at work so I never discuss work at home, not even to my wife
    I would urge others to use their ability to choose friends or family as employees. Not only does it feel good to help them out it can change their life. I have had a few of my friends and family members lives completely change for the better due to the opportunity I was blessed with to give them. Sure there will be the backfires from time to time but the reward is well worth the risk.

    • Refresh Leadership February 6, 2019 at 1:24 pm #

      Those are great rules to keep in mind, Kevin! And, I also worked for my dad in high school and college – much like your son, a big part of why I worked so hard was definitely about doing a great job for him.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. Kim February 6, 2019 at 1:04 pm #

    I wanted to copy and paste the paragraph above about “Nepotism” to describe the situation that occurred when hiring my brother to work for our company. There are a few employees that it bothered especially, and they made it very known to everyone that it bothered them, and how I was treating him differently than others. My brother and I have also been accused of teaming up together against other employees. He has been here about 6 months now, and things have calmed down a bit, but there are still a couple of employees who are not happy with the situation. Fortunately, he is great at his job! But that shouldn’t be coming from me…

    • Refresh Leadership February 6, 2019 at 1:27 pm #

      The perception of nepotism is a big obstacle to overcome in workplace situations. But it definitely helps that your brother puts in the work!

      Thanks for the comment!

  4. Laurie February 6, 2019 at 1:25 pm #

    No problem working with my family members. All are hard workers, competent and any company would be happy to have them. Realistically, they do have to be viewed as way better than others for it to seem fair to the rest of the staff.

    Sadly, I have lost good employees in the past because of hiring THEIR friend or family member. You need to assume that if you fire a current employee’s relative or friend, they might quit as well…even when it is obvious to the whole organization that the person was not a fit. I won’t do any favours like this again, regardless of what the employee recommending them says. It is just not worth it..

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