By Michelle Lievense

The hiring process can be difficult. Finding the right talent that will be a great fit with your company culture, as well as with the work ethic and loyalty you can depend upon are just a few factors. 

Adding friends or family to the mix can be an added stress point, but it can also be a blessing. Not everyone realizes there are great reasons to hire friends and friends of employees. 

Let’s look at the factors to take into account when deciding whether hiring friends is right for you. We’ll look at what you need to consider, how to set up a friend-employee relationship that will actually work for both of you, and how to maintain your friendship while maintaining professional distance.

What are Nepotism and Networking?

Nepotism is the tendency for people with power or influence to hire friends or family, particularly by giving them jobs. But how is that different from networking? Isn’t networking merely using your connections to get ahead? And isn’t networking expected, even a requirement in today’s hiring environment? What is the difference between nepotism and hiring the friend of an employee who has passed their friend’s resume on to you?

It turns out there is a difference, and understanding that difference can pave the way for a healthy working relationship with friends you may hire. 

The biggest difference is that nepotism means a position was created for that friend or they were hired even though they weren’t qualified. However, nepotism has a bad wrap. It isn’t synonymous with corruption. 

Hiring friends and family, including the process of nepotism, is actually an incredibly common tradition around the world. Families will hand their business down to their children or grandchildren, whether the organization is big or small. It’s considered their right and a standard legacy-building practice. 

Networking means the person may have been given access to the hiring decision-maker, but they still had to be qualified for the job.

Keeping this difference in mind will help you draw the line between nepotism and networking, ensuring you avoid some of the common reasons hiring friends often ends up failing. 

Reasons So Many People Are Against Hiring Friends as Employees

Let’s address the two most common reasons hiring friends and family doesn’t work out for many organizations, particularly small businesses.

  • Co-worker perception. Employees will assume your friend got the job because they are your friend, rather than thinking it’s because they were qualified. This lowers morale and creates harmful animosity within and across teams. 
  • Taking advantage. In scenarios where hiring friends didn’t work out, it’s often because friends end up taking advantage of the situation, confident in what they can get away with or they have misconceptions that the job is guaranteed for life. This can leave their employer feeling like they are being taken advantage of. It can also end up dumping a great deal of work on co-workers, again leading to animosity and workplace drama. 

Reasons Hiring Friends as Employees Can Be Wonderful

Bringing friends into the mix as trusted advisors, board members, and strategically placing them on leadership teams or in other roles is an age old practice. Hiring friends can be a recipe for success. Here are three key considerations:

  1. Known factor. Friends and family are often a known factor that creates an element of trust when placing or promoting a stranger creates risk.
  2. Trust. A friend is typically someone you trust. When the stakes are high, or you know your friend will have valuable insights while having your back, hiring a friend can give you value other employees can’t possibly match. 
  3. Shared responsibility. Making the hiring decisions is a tough job. And the best candidate isn’t always clear. By hiring the friend of an employee or colleague, you share the burden of responsibility with the referrer as well as the new hire. The new hire always knows you took a chance on them and most will work hard to prove their friend was right to recommend them. Also, if the referring employee sees their friend taking their new job for granted, you have an ally to lean on to help get your new hire to toe the line. 

How to Hire Friends and Make It Work 

There are plenty of ways to make a professional friendship work, but there are only four crucial elements to have in place above all else. 

1. Best Person for the Job, Not the Job Description

The job description is a great starting place, but it doesn’t mean everything. When considering hiring a friend, they should be able to meet the basic expectations of the job description. To help alleviate possible team concerns, it’s even better if your friend is overqualified. 

Job description aside, is this friend the best fit for the job? Beyond the bulleted list of daily tasks, consider how they fit into the bigger picture. Day-to-day tasks can be learned with time. But do they care about doing the work? Do they fit the company culture? Or will they be a great influence on company culture? And will they help grow the position and company? Perhaps most importantly, will they be your ally and advocate in this position? These are questions you would consider against anyone you are thinking about hiring because these questions matter and speak to the bigger picture. Applying them to your friend will ensure some of the big pitfalls are given consideration early in the hiring process.  

2. Communication: Performance and Expectations

Do they care about the fact that they are entering a sensitive space by being employed by you? It’s worth asking out loud. Communication is crucial in all relationships and this situation is no different. Let them know about performance expectations and draw clear boundaries. Also, give them the chance to think out loud, ask questions, and air their concerns. 

3. Boundaries Between Personal and Professional

One of the biggest challenges is wearing two separate titles. You are a friend and an employer. How will that play out in your day-to-day? Remember to openly talk about examples where you’ll need to create professional distance versus confiding in a friend. 

You can agree not to talk about work when you’re both off the clock. That will keep friendship time clear of any work-related landmines. At work, you don’t have to be cold and distant. It’s more important that you be honest about the fact that you know each other as friends. However, you can create some distance by making sure you each spend time with colleagues and that you intentionally give each other space.

4. Be Prepared for Sacrifice

Never enter the discussion if you can’t imagine saying no. And don’t hire them if you can’t imagine being able to fire them or enforce behavior with the same disciplinary actions you would take on other employees. 

Most importantly, be prepared to either lose a friend, or lose an employee if things go south. That doesn’t mean you need to lose both. However, if you’re prepared to see some distance in your friendship because you fall into a working relationship or visa versa, it means you have the mindset to sacrifice, if needed. 

Final Thoughts

Even though there are headlines with horror stories and seemingly endless examples of workplace drama, the truth is, hiring friends, friends of current employees, and hiring family, are a common practice for small and large businesses in many countries. More than common practice, it’s tradition. And it is tradition for a reason – because it works. You just need to understand the mindset, how to overcome the pitfalls, and keep communication open. 

Featured photo credit: Depositphotos