I'd like to hear your advice and experiences in hiring and managing personal friends.

I have a good personal friend/former colleague (friend first, colleague later) who I think would be just the ticket to help me jump start the department I've been hired to create. I am interesting in bringing him on as an employee, and he's interested, even though it means giving up a more lucrative job.

I am, however, unsure whether it's a good idea to bring a personal friend on board as a subordinate/direct. We have worked together in the past, but always on either a short term basis or as peers. We've never had an extended working relationship that covered performance reviews, compensation, etc.

I think we can act professionally and work well together, but I'd hate to break up our friendship over a professional dispute.

I'm less concerned with the hiring itself, since I would pretty much bring him in to interview and let my colleagues make the hiring decision. I know I can't be unbiased.

If you have any experiences, insights or advice, I'd love to hear them. Thanks.

pmoriarty's picture
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Hi Nik,

In my experience, you can have a friend or you can have an employee but not both. There's a saying from the military that comes to mind - "Undue familiarity breeds contempt." Should you hire your friend and try to maintain your friendship, your other directs will become aware of the existing friendship and they will filter their perceptions of your interactions with you friend as being preferential. It's just human nature.

TomW's picture
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Never. You are setting yourself up for accusations of favoritism and losing the friend.

RichRuh's picture
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Hello from Fort Collins.

I think you should break this problem down into two parts.

1. Hiring.
Do you typically make all the hiring decisions, or is your team involved? If your team is involved (IMHO, it should be), can you have your friend interview without your team knowing he is your friend? What you want are unvarnished opinions on his suitability for the job. Alternatively, have you created an environment where your directs can disagree with you? This can be hard to judge, but my boss has brought in friends to interview with us, I've turned them down, and I'm still employed, so it can happen.

2. Managing.
If you've ever managed a former peer, than you've probably managed a friend. You'll have to be very sensitive to being seen as "playing favorites." Likewise, you should be up-front with your friend about the fact that your friendship will (and must) change. Again, this is hard, but do-able.


jhack's picture

It's not a good idea. Partners in a new venture, sometimes works. Peers, sometimes works, but then one or the other gets promoted. The power one of you has over the other puts an enormous strain on the friendship.

Even if you can work it out between you, there will always be the whispers and doubts of others about your "impartial" decisions.

Worst case: one of you doesn't perform up to standard. There is no graceful exit.


ctomasi's picture

I agree with Rich's Hiring/Managing comments. My previous role was a transition to managing my former peers. I considered all of them my friends as peers - one of whom I have known for 20+ years and two other jobs. He finally confided in me several months ago, just before I took my current position, that he always felt a little awkward in that role of his good friend being his boss. Our friendship survived and thanks to fair practices (and decent minded people) there were no thoughts of favoritism.

There are distinct advantages to hiring a friend. You know a good deal more about their history, their results, their work ethic. Just remember to keep your "manager hat" on and be objective about the hiring process.

BJ_Marshall's picture
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I had problems with officemates when my boss and I just [b]carpooled[/b] together. People saw me as the office favorite, and they started questioning my boss. I can't image what it would have been like if we were actually friends. (Though maybe perceived the two to be the same.)


AManagerTool's picture

I am going to disagree with the assumption that just because someone is your friend, it's a bad idea to hire them. I have reasons.

My definition of "Friend" = Someone that I meet socially, outside of work, I know their spouse, kids and they know mine. We talk on a regular basis about everything. I genuinely like their company and seek it out.

1. I brought my friend in with me at two companies now and hadn't had much in the way of static about it. At both companies, he was subordinate to me. We worked together and knew where to draw the line between work time and friend time. This has proven to be a productive partnership both at work and at home. He left this company for a start up and we are still friends.
2. I currently add people to my network at work and have become friends with some of them. We go out socially. I go swimming at their house, we take vacations together and play poker at least once a month together. Some of these people are VERY senior to me. My staff and organization reap many benefits from my deepened relationships and both seem very supportive of my social butterfly proclivities.
3. Most of a major research department at my company consists of a close knit cadre of friends that were expatriated from Great Britain. The leader of that department was so desired by my company that he got to choose many of his direct reports from amongst his qualified friends. While there is some grousing about this from the American researchers in the group, the Brits are outstanding enough to remove all substantive arguments against the obvious nepotism. Productivity of this department has increased 10 fold...I mean that quite literally.
4. I speak to these expats regularly. Guess what, some of them I count as friends. They tell me that the reason they work together so well is BECAUSE they have such great relationships with each other. They can't understand why we Americans have such a prejudice against it.

Again folks, I want to point out that it is relationships that count the higher up the ladder that you go. What better way to enhance your team than by relationship building? How about by bringing your existing relationships into your team. There was a time in American industry where you couldn't get into a company unless you knew somebody and to this day it helps.

Being an effective manager is NOT about doing what's easy or popular. If people talk, let them. If you are not showing "favoritism", what is the worry? For that matter, don't you show "favoritism" to your high performers? You don't avoid that perception do you?

I think in this case, the popular logic is wrong.

I will always hire qualified friends.

BJ_Marshall's picture
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I've never thought of it this way before. That actually sounds really comforting to me. I just yesterday interviewed for a promotion, and one of my closest friends (who I know to be a great worker) said she'd love to work for me if I get that position. My initial reaction was that it would be a really hairy situation.

Thanks for the insight.


RichRuh's picture
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The key to making this work is in your message:
[quote]who I know to be a great worker[/quote]

If your friends are [b]great[/b] workers, managing them can work. If they are merely good (or worse), you're much more likely to run into problems with (alleged or real) favoritism.

And, even with a [b]great[/b] worker, your friendship with that person must change- not go away, just change. That should be the subject of a frank discussion before making any decisions. If you're not OK with that, walk away with the "your friendship means too much to me to risk" excuse.

Managing a rockstar who happens to be a friend isn't easy-- but it can be [b]very[/b] effective. :)


Nik's picture

Good insights, everyone, thanks. That's very helpful.

I think I'm going to approach this person about a contractor position. Either let him incorporate and give him the jobs I think best suit him, and attract other clients at the same time; or simply put him in a temporary contractor position on a fixed term. (A year, perhaps)

In the first case, he picks up more work and isn't dependent on me for his livelihood, so I can cut off the flow of work if he fails to perform without causing massive financial trauma. In the latter case, there's no worries about performance reviews, raises, or the like, because he's on a fixed term. (Provided there's no expectation of renewal)

I think the first is better, and it matches his entrepreneurial bent, but he may appreciate the security of the latter. We'll see.

Thanks again. Always good to have such a varied and intelligent sounding board.

US41's picture

Never hire your friends, neighbors, or family members, and never hire anyone that you will be uncomfortable firing.

I've hired a friend before. I had my friend moved from a department where we had been coworkers to working directly for me. At the time, the place where I moved was pretty soft, and I thought I was helping him by finding him a cake job.

Two months later, the boss was replaced, and I was introduced to the concept of serious objectives, measuring performance, and being held up to an objective standard. As my manager pressed me for performance, I pressed my people - especially my friend. Finally we had a showdown and I was forced to invoke my status as the boss. The friendship has never healed.

I have advised my own directs against this. One of them did not believe me and strongly recommended I hire a friend of hers to enter our group. I did, and he ended up reporting to her as I restructured the group. She said, "It won't be a problem." I fired him four months later for insubordination to my boss. Their friendship is severely damaged and she now feels uncomfortable seeing him.

Don't hire friends, because you are putting your work needs ahead of your friendships. Real friends prioritize the friendship, not the work needs. Real friends are strong enough to resist a friends' begging for a job - usually friends beg friends for jobs because they want to take advantage of the friendship at work and have it easy with automatic insider 1st tier status. When you fire or confront this friend with negative feedback, the friendship is going to disintegrate. You will be left with a broken person with a black cloud of distrust over them.

Don't hire your family. When you hire family, you violate a basic covenant of the manager: not to show favoritism. If you own a small shop and your wife or son comes to work there - sure. But in a bigger company, as a manager, hiring in friends and family gives your directs and their directs the impression that they have no chance to succeed and that you have hired a spy.

Again, when you fire family, it is like dropping a bomb within your own home or clan. The ripple effects will be much greater than you think they will be. Firing your brother in law, for example, can cause you to lose a sibling.

Never hire a neighbor. When you fire them, you will have to see them every day mowing their grass. You might see the water and power turned off at their house. You might see him stumbling in drunk late at night crying about losing his job. Your other neighbors will make you the pariah of the street, and you will cause a social situation you do not want to be in.

Don't hire your friends, family, or neighbors. If you fire them, you will do yourself harm. If you know this, you will be slower to fire them than perhaps you should be. You will be too hard on them due to panicky fear or too easy on them because you are scared to fire them.

Don't hire them because no one can cut you like a friend, family member, or neighbor. No one has more dirt on you. No one can create gossip about you or become as powerful of an office enemy as these people closest to you. No one is as likely to tell stories of your childhood or otherwise help tear down your reputation if they feel wronged by you.

Management is hard enough. This site's success proves that most people are fairly clueless about how to manage and have great emotional turmoil even over little things like "I caught an employee gambling online." You don't need the extra complexity of wondering what the fallout will be or having to have to courage to confront someone despite your relationship with them.

Avoid this pitfall at all costs. Hire someone you know - sure - but do not hire someone with whom your relationship is very powerful and outside of work.

I am sure that there are thousands of anecdotes where hiring friends worked out because the friend performed. But those anecdotes do not address the vulnerability and exposure you have when you hire these people. You are literally gambling they will perform and risking quite a lot in the process. Is it possible that it works? Sure. But I think the risk outweighs the potential benefits, especially in a high-performance, high-intensity environment.

stephenbooth_uk's picture

I've seen people hire friends and it work, I've also seen it not work. I'd estimate a ratio of about 3 disasters to every non-disaster.

Hiring friends (or neighbours or family) is, as US41 indicated, not a good idea. It's a bad idea. It may not be the worst possible idea (e.g. punching your bosses boss in the middle of the office) but it's pretty bad.


RichRuh's picture
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After reading through some of your other examples (family, neighbors), I'm not convinced we're as far apart on this issue as it may first appear.

My thoughts on hiring friends apply [b]only[/b] to friends [i]with whom I have a pre-existing professional-based relationship.[/i] I'm talking about former peers, friends in other divisions of the company, members of the local user group that I belong to, and so forth.

Maybe it's my DISC profile talking, but I'd be a lot less successful if I avoided these people when considering hiring.

As an extreme, but I still think legitimate example, consider the following:
- Is Mark Horstman your friend?
- Would you hire him?


p.s. Nik, I think your compromise is a good one. Be mindful of directs making indirect jokes about your friend- they're not jokes.

stephenbooth_uk's picture

[quote="RichRuh"]As an extreme, but I still think legitimate example, consider the following:
- Is Mark Horstman your friend?
No. I've never actually met Mark and we haven't ever directly corresponded or communicated other than via these forums and the comments on the main site.

I purchase a service from Mark and Mike (I'm a premium member) as well as availing myself of their free offerings. I respect both Mark and Mike and if I met them may even like them.

People I count as friends I have met and spent time with, generally a lot of time. There's a humorous aphorism "A friend will help you move a sofa, a good friend will help you move a body." Most of my friends fall into the latter category (although I've not yet had cause to test this in actuality).

I would not hire any of my friends. I would help them as much as I could to find a job. I would leverage my network to help them find work. If I knew of a job that would interest them I would point it out to them and suppoort their application, as a friend, indeed I do point out opportunities to friends if I think they're suitable.

I'd never hire someone I wouldn't want to fire for non-work reasons.

[quote="RichRuh"]- Would you hire him?[/quote]

If I had a role that fitted his behaviours and skills, and I could afford him, and he was interested.


TomW's picture
Training Badge

[quote="US41"]... never hire anyone that you will be uncomfortable firing[/quote]

I think this is the key element. If you would be comfortable firing someone, then go ahead and hire them. If it's your spouse or your best friend from high school, you may not be OK with that.

rgbiv99's picture

My office is rife with the hiring of friends/family and I can tell you firsthand that Stephen is correct when he says that there are about three disasters for every one that works out. Not worth it, in my opinion.

terrih's picture

The biggest disaster I ever saw resulted from a manager hiring a direct's husband just to help persuade the direct to relocate. Not the same pitfalls as this situation, but still. We have some other married couples in this company, but in no other case does both work for the same manager.

When I inherited the department, and later on had to fire the husband, you can imagine that didn't do much for the atmosphere in my O3s with the wife. :?

AManagerTool's picture

Good discussions all.

I understand how you all feel about this issue. I too have seen it done very badly. I have felt that I would never hire friends or family and with some friends and every last one of my family members, I still do. What I have found is that in my case, I have hired friends and have had great success in doing it. I have also seen it done by others also with great success.

I am not saying it's for everyone. I am not saying it is easy or conflict free. I am also not saying that it is without risk. What I am suggesting is that with the [b]right[/b] set of ground rules, the [b]right[/b] two people can make anything work. How you get to determine "[b]right[/b]" is way beyond the scope of this discussion.

I know that Manager Tools is all about boiling down issues to their simplest forms and developing sets of guidelines based upon them. To that end: NEVER HIRE FRIENDS OR FAMILY. My position is that the world is not as black and white as all of that and great rewards sometimes require the risk of venturing into the grey.

US41's picture

[quote="RichRuh"]- Is Mark Horstman your friend? Would you hire him?[/quote]

Dude, that's like asking me if I would hire Peter Drucker. An extreme example like that is an outlier that goes beyond friendship. Mark's ability is so publicly visible that my friendship with him is at no risk because Mark would quickly and easily do his job, go beyond it, and have me as his report four levels down within a few months.

However, I would question his sanity and ask what tragedy had befallen him if he ever stooped to working for the likes of me. And I would probably help him find something better quickly because you don't put a great white in a goldfish bowl.

My dear friends from high school and by office buddies who do not work for me or around me are not Mark Horstman-like. I'm not going to hire someone that I am wondering if I have to fire them later who can hurt me or who will be personally harmed by having me still in their lives or no longer in their lives after being fired.

US41's picture

[quote="terrih"]When I inherited the department, and later on had to fire the husband, you can imagine that didn't do much for the atmosphere in my O3s with the wife. :?[/quote]

I have directs who have made the mistake of hiring the personal friends of their own directs. Same thing: Fire one, and the other is poisoned.

Be careful about hiring other people's referrals, or a similar sort of situation can quickly get out of control.

RichRuh's picture
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Sorry US41, I failed to convey my point. What I was trying to do was to challenge you to ask if you had a friend who you trust, respect, and could fire if you needed to. Clearly, I chose a bad example that was too extreme.

To me, a friend is someone who I know personally, who I enjoy spending time with, who I respect, who I trust, and who I love. There are certainly friends who I could never manage, and definitely never fire- family members, my best friend my high school, and so forth. Some of those I couldn't even give feedback to! :) (Neighbors might fall into that category too, never thought about it but US41's logic makes sense)

And there is, for me, another group of friends who I could fire if there was professional need.

I ask a lot from my directs, and I try to give them a lot too. When I'm working 12-hour days trying to get a project done, I look at the people around me. No, I'm not friends with all of them- some of them I don't even like (although I respect, trust, and care about them) - but most of them [b]are[/b] my friends, and my life is better for it.

Many of you have said that you would never hire friends. There are definitely high risks, and I respect your decision. My personal belief is that there are risks with any hiring decision, and that sometimes high risks bring with them great rewards.

Be careful. Your mileage may vary.



p.s. If I had the position suited for his talents, and he had the interest, I'd hire Mark. A month later I'd work for him, and I'd have the best boss EVER. Surely we can all agree on that! :P

AManagerTool's picture

I think that Rich and I are in agreement. Though I wouldn't hire Mark Horstman. He's overqualified, wears sandles in airports and we couldn't afford him anyway. 8)

Nik's picture

Just an update on my own progress:

My friend JUMPED at the opportunity to go back to self-employment/growing a small business, and we've signed him on as a vendor.

The process of contract negotiation made it VERY clear that I shouldn't have hired him as an employee. Just setting terms for contract termination without cause was a stressful thing for both of us. I'm putting his livelihood (or part of it, at least) in my hands. We came to an equitable agreement, but it was definitely a challenge.

I'm very grateful you were all here to push me away from hiring him. I think it would have been a disaster. Thanks!