Whether you’re just starting your business, or you’ve been a victim of the “Great Resignation” and have openings you need to fill quickly, it’s probably crossed your mind to consider hiring a family member or friend to either temporarily or permanently fill a gap.
When I teach workshops on hiring, one of the most important things I focus on is asking potential employees the right questions to ensure they are a “right fit” for your business. When it comes to hiring a friend or a relative, it’s key that you both can set aside your relationship and adjust to your new roles of boss and employee while you’re both at work.
Kay is the owner of a grooming salon outside of Nashville, Tennessee, and she says she’s learned many valuable and painful lessons about hiring a friend to help her get her business started.
“Starting a business oftentimes we think we need a ‘warm body’ to fill the spot instead of taking the time to look for a great employee candidate,” said Kay. “When hiring friends, they need to respect you and if you’re not sure how you want your business to run, they will see right through it and try to be a ‘friend’ and ‘help.’”
The result of this inner knowledge of your indecisions or weaknesses is an employee who now sees themselves as a partner, or adviser, in the business rather than an employee and as such, thinks the rules don’t apply to them. Kay explained that she struggles with the decision to hire a friend and the consequences ever since.
“My friend, who is an employee, is always late, always has drama, always brings it to work and poisons the well with the non-friend employees,” Kay noted.
As a self-described recovering people pleaser, Kay has struggled with this new working relationship with her friend.
“If she was not a friend, I wouldn’t take it as personally as I do,” Kay explained. “She constantly pokes fun at rules and then when she is aware that she’s on thin ice she straightens up and performs well, but it creates a toxic work environment. There are times she is the best asset, then other times I want to pack up her stuff and make her leave. For me, it’s not working out.”
Kay also advises against having friends or family come in as supplemental or “once in a while” help because “they often keep the supplemental help habits.” Kay explained that such habits, as well as the mindset of not being a permanent employee, make it difficult for business owners or managers to set clear expectations.
When asked if there was anything she would have done differently if she had it to do over again, Kay said one thing that would have made this situation better would have been to create better boundaries with her friend before they started working together.
“It’s important that you have clear expectations and immediate enforcement when problems arise,” she said. “If I could change anything about the situation that I’ve put myself in, it would be to keep my mouth closed about business ideas until I’m ready to enforce them, set clear concise expectations and deal breaking habits and actually consider the candidate’s work ethic and capabilities. Pay should have been based on business capabilities, instead of paying what I wanted to make them happy.
“I’ve found I overpaid friends just because I was grateful for their help,” Kay concluded. “I allowed them to use my salon as if it was their own. I let them try to make decisions that would not fall under their job title in the hopes to avoid conflict. I have come to find that the conflict is sometimes inevitable if the business isn’t being run properly with the proper systems and expectations on staff.”
Sarah hired a friend three years ago when she knew she’d be moving from Maryland to Georgia. The friend was supposed to buy the business when Sarah moved.
“Things were hell from day one,” Sarah recalled. “She didn’t know how to separate home and work. I made it very clear every time that I had to reprimand her, which was a lot, that this is not personal. My business is my life, and I had been open for 12 years at that point. I just wanted what was best for my clients.”
The situation came to a head when Sarah ended up having to fire her friend, effectively ending their friendship and her business is permanently closed, instead of the friend taking it over. Looking back, Sarah said there were signs that the working relationship with her friend wasn’t going to work.
“I was pretty lenient at first,” she said. “Also, there were serious red flags with her from the beginning. I should have fired her within a week of her becoming an employee. She felt way too comfortable and took over everything without telling me.”
Although many business owners have negative experiences working with friends and family, there are some positive stories, as well. From a friend hiring her best friend to parents hiring their children and cousins hiring cousins, many business owners have made these relationships work to the benefit of themselves, their employees and their business.
Tasha works for her cousin Tracy at Tracy’s Happy Tail Pet Spa in Watertown, New York.
“I have worked for my cousin, who is like my big sister, as a groomers assistant for the better part of 10 years. I’m not going to say there aren’t days we get annoyed with each other because everyone will when they are together 10 to 12 hours a day, five days a week. But I trust her with my life as she does with me so for us it has been great.”
Tracy echoed Tasha’s sentiment about being there for each other. “We respect each other, and family will always come before the shop,” explained Tracy. “We are a team of the same mindset. We are lucky to have each other. I know for others it may not work, but for us it just does.”
Shelly, owner of Shear Love Pet Grooming in Cisero, New York, hires relatives and friends. “I trained my daughter eight years ago and it was the best decision I ever made,” she said. “I set boundaries from the start. I don’t give my relatives special treatment.”
In the end, the decision to hire a friend or relative is a personal one that each business owner will need to make for themselves. If you do decide to move forward, be sure you heed the advice of those who have done it successfully and unsuccessfully. Choose someone that has the skill you need, the personality and work ethic that fits you and your business and someone who can clearly play the role of employee when you’re both at work. Establishing clear expectations and boundaries is also a key to success.
Finally, be sure to talk openly about how you’ll handle conflict when it comes up. In addition, ask your friend or relative how they’ll respond if they have to be redirected or disciplined just like any other employee. Having these difficult conversations up front can help increase your chances of success and lessen the chance you’ll ruin a relationship that’s important to you.
Amy P. Castro, MA, is a business, leadership and communication expert, author and speaker who helps organizations develop leaders and build amazing teams one person at a time. She works with pet industry professionals who want to grow their loyal customer base by building a “Best in Show” team that can deliver a 5-Star Customer Experience. Amy is also the president of Starlight Outreach and Rescue, a nonprofit rescue in the Houston, Texas, area, and she has personally fostered more than 1,000 shelter pets.