want to ruin a friendship? hire a friend.

Right now, someone out there is thinking about hiring a friend and becoming that person’s manager. Don’t do it!

At first, the idea of working with a friend can sound great – you get along well, you can talk through problems easily, you see eye-to-eye on most things, and you can act as each other’s ally at work. But managing a friend can be far tougher than it looks – and few friendships come out of it intact.

* As your friend’s manager, you’re going to have access to information that you can’t share with her – about finances, personnel decision, and so forth. So suddenly you’re keeping secrets from your friend.

* Your friend is going to have to keep things from you, too. At some point, everyone needs to vent about their boss, no matter how fantastic that boss might be. And now that you’re her boss, the person she’s venting about will be you.

* You’re going to know things that you’ll wish you didn’t know. For instance, normally, if an employee calls in sick on a day you really needed her at work, you might be disappointed but you understand. But when that employee is your friend and you happen to know that she was out late at a bar last night, you have a different issue to deal with.

* The worst possibility might come to fruition: You might need to fire her. Can you picture having to tell your friend she’s in danger of getting fired if her performance doesn’t improve? Worse, can you picture yourself having to fire her? (Even if you think your friendship would survive this, anecdotal evidence puts that in doubt.)

Of course, if you’re like everyone else in the history of the workplace, you’re thinking that this will be different for you. But the reality is that there’s a very good chance you’ll find that doing your job well means sacrificing the friendship. If that trade-off isn’t worth it to you, think very carefully before putting yourself in a situation where you might ever need to make that choice.

{ 19 comments… read them below }

    1. class factotum*

      My aunt and uncle fired my cousin from their family business. I don’t know the details (although I am dying to), but the situation must have been awful for that to happen.

  1. Cara Carroll*

    As an HR Manager this is the reason I always keep SOME distance with my co-workers. As amazing as they are, if I get too close and the day comes where I need to let them go for any reason I know being friends would make things even harder. In fact, I have recently run into this situation. Luckily that friend was very understanding about us letting him go (It was not his fault by any means and we definitely didn’t want to). But maybe I am one of those lucky 1%. I felt so bad about it and knew this person was awesome at what he did. So I reached out to my connections and within 2 weeks we found him another position. This person was not my friend to start with though, we gradually became friends while working together. Still, being in a managerial position and having friends at work is a tough balance.

  2. Dawn*

    I’ve been managing my best friend for 10+ years and we’ve had no problems because of it. Actually, I find it easier to deal with sticky issues with her. There’s no awkwardness. Maybe because we’ve been friends for 25+ years. She knows I’m her boss and that what happens at work, is work.

    I do tend to stay away from getting overly friendly with other co-workers, though. We chat and laugh and carry on, but I probably wouldn’t start hanging out outside of work. That would be more awkward for me since we don’t have the personal history together.

  3. anon*

    AAM – Do you come down any differently if the friendship was forged in the workplace itself? Many people I consider close friends are people who I worked with at one point and was impressed with. I work in DC public policy, which I know you are familiar with, and the line between colleague and friend can be very indistinct…

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I do think it’s different; often friendships that started pre-work are harder to transition into a world of totally different rules and power dynamics than friendships that started in that world.

      That said, I do think that in either context, it’s important for managers to remember that no matter how much they may like their colleagues, you need to preserve certain boundaries with people who report to you, directly or indirectly. Even when you think you don’t — because it’s not until it’s too late that you sometimes realize it. It took me a long time to learn that, and it was really to my detriment at times.

  4. GeekChic*

    I was quite close friends with my manager for several years (we work in different places now and are still close) and it worked fine even when she had to discipline me (yes, it was warranted). When I was a manager, I was also friends with several of my staff members and we are still close.

    How did things work out so well? Largely because when we were at work – we weren’t friends. Ever.

  5. Anonymous*

    My experiences with hiring and working with friends has been fine.

    I think trouble is likely to arise when you hire friend to help them out, even though you KNOW they are not right for the job. This is the situation that almost never works out because hiring decision is 100% (or close to it) based on the friendship.

  6. dradis contact*

    Not to mention how the other employees will feel when they learn about the friendship. They will be constantly scrutinizing the situation, and quick to complain about real or perceived favoritism towards the friend.

  7. Anonymous*

    I agree that in situations where there are clear alternatives you should avoid being your friend’s boss. But if the friend is really desperate, and the job is something they’re qualified for, I think it would be very selfish to say, from your position of having a steady job while they don’t, that you’re afraid it would be awkward. Of course, it depends how close the friend is, as well as a lot of other factors. We all know that the best jobs are traded among the Good Old Boy Network, so it really sucks when you’re not in that social circle, but do have one friend in a position to hire for some low-level job and they won’t even do it.

    It’s like when they say you should never loan money to friends. I had a situation once where a fraudster emptied my bank account, and I had no money for over a month while they were sorting it out. I wasn’t making much and had to wait two weeks just to have enough for rent. I couldn’t afford my medication, so I asked the guy I’d been dating if he would get it for me. He said no, never loan money to friends, blah blah blah. I just think that sometimes you have to weigh whether it’s more important that the person not be homeless or hospitalized versus God forbid your friendship is strained. I’d rather not be friends with someone anymore than be their friend while they suffer because I refused to help them.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Absolutely, if you’re very clear on the trade-off, then go for it. You’ve just go to be clear-eyed that it will probably mess up the friendship — the problem comes when people don’t believe that and then later on regret doing it. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the trade-off itself, as long as you know you’re making it.

      And that guy you were dating sounds like a jerk. I hope you stopped dating him soon after!

  8. Cheryl*

    Thanks so much for your advice.
    I recently had a friend apply for not one, but two jobs that I was filling. I know that she has been looking for work for about a year. She was not suitable for either of the positions, but even if she was, I think my response would have been the same.

    I had emailed her directly and said that I make it a policy to not hire friends. I am happy to redirect them to my networks and to connect them with other recruiters, but I feel that hiring friends puts me at a disadvantage and my credibility as being an objective leader can be called into question.

    I have, for the record, hired friends as contractors and have had mixed feelings about that in retrospect. Some have pumped out amazing work, others had to be trained and coaxed into the work. It just seems that hiring friends has the potential to worsen rather than improve your work situation.

  9. mark*

    the subject of hiring a friend or family member is something that i am really familiar with! my boss has done exactly that! in 2 years he’s been in charge, he’s hired 2 of his best friends,an ex colleague from another place he worked,hired his wife (to work night shift),and his brother!! and almost all of them have been made up to managers of some sort, while other long term employees with the company were sort of pushed shall we say, out the door!! 3 out of the friends and family he brought in to work, have already been sacked, for fighting and stealing and so on, and we wondered why he put his wife on night shift, that was until the rumours started circulating about him having an affair with one of the girls on day shift, and not before long, she got made a manager too, and there has always been a divide between the staff, you know, there’s his lot, and then there is the long term staff that were there before him!! i would love to get a job elsewhere, but there is not a lot of work going for me where i live at the moment, so i got to stick it out for as long as i can!!

  10. heather*

    I suffered from this. From the start it was bound to fail. I wanted to help my friend because he’s smart but financially challenged making it difficult for him to get his college degree. We had a lot in common, hobbies, political beliefs, etc. Eventually we came up with the startup business plan based on our hobbies. I gave him money so he can accomplish the tasks I gave him. Guess what, he used that money to buy food for his family and have not accomplished the tasks. It get’s more annoying since he does his best to keep in touch with me via emails, but avoids the topics regarding the business. So I just become more aware that he has time for other stuff, but not for responsibilities. At some point I just stopped reading his emails (filtered them). In the end I feel stupid that I invested in this person without being objective, due to my faith in friendship. It was during a time when I am less mature and overly nice and optimistic.

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