By Tamara Pupic
Tamara Pupic looks at whether you should hire friends to work in your start-up
Why is it complicated?
It’s been repeated many times that if you want to ruin a friendship, hire a friend. However, a start-up struggling to make ends meet often relies on friends and family.
Not only does it happen that friends approach you for a job when they are looking for work, but they will also jump in to help when you are in a time of need.
So why are we so cautious when it comes to formalising that relationship?
Bringing your friends on board is a double-edged sword because it can reveal so much about the strengths and weaknesses of both of you and disturb the everyday patterns that exist between friends or a boss and an employee.
For example, you should learn how to deal with an issue arising from the fact that a friend you’ve employed called in sick a day after the two of you had stayed up late watching a movie. Or the friend you’ve employed might not be so happy about your new car if he or she knows that your start-up is in financial trouble.
Why is it simple?
First of all, your hiring process will not be burdensome since you won’t need to do a background check knowing that their personal references are probably your references.
Then, the induction phase will be much quicker because your friend has probably visited your office many times and got to know your other employees.
More importantly, that friend already knows the ins and outs of your business from its inception to the current stage and can immediately start producing results.
Lastly, many will add that having an ally at work is priceless.
How to find the right fit?
Business is not a friendship in which both of you are on equal footing. When one is paying another to perform a job, a power balance needs to be established.
Although many companies prefer a casual atmosphere, the leadership role is often invisibly delineated. When friends are involved, it can be intentionally or unintentionally undermined since your casual conversations might give an impression to other employees that you shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
This is just one example of possible pitfalls which could be prevented if anticipated. Therefore, enter into this relationship with as many rules as possible established first such as working hours, work ethic and behaviour policies, uniform rules, and similar.
Is there any other way?
If you want to avoid ‘it’s not about you’ conversations after a failed experiment of working together, hiring your friends as independent contractors might tick all the boxes. You’ll get a reliable employee whose skills you need or you’ll help a friend in need while the issues that usually don’t belong in the workplace won’t get in the way of good business.
What if business fails?
When this topic is discussed, people usually analyse how the friendship could affect the business. But it is often overlooked how the business, especially its failure, could affect the friendship.
Reportedly, Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, started the company by hiring friends and thought about the long term effect the potential failure of his business would have on his friends and their families.
With this in mind he established a special fund within Microsoft to secure funds for employees’ salaries long after the company’s possible bankruptcy. This sense of responsibility might be one of the reasons why Microsoft has been going from strength to strength ever since.