Get down to business when hiring friends

Dear Joan:
I own and operate my own small business. The staff normally consists of two-part time employees, and myself. During the busy season, the workload occasionally becomes a bit more than the three of us can handle. At this point I usually ask my friends if they would be interested in helping out on a temporary basis, It is usually no problem to find willing volunteers due to the fact that they are well aware that I pay well. I see this as a mutually beneficial situation, I get the help I need, and they get a chance to earn some extra money. The problem usually doesn't occur until the work begins.

Once on the job, I like to pay serious attention to be sure that the work is done as best as possible and in the most efficient way. My part-time workers have been with me long enough to know what I expect, and are very capable of doing it. My friends however strike me as being a bit clumsy; a problem I would no doubt attribute to inexperience. I am as patient with them as possible as long as I see that there is an effort. What bothers me a great deal, is that when I try to help them, or show them a better way of doing something, I am usually confronted with remarks such as, "Yes sir," or "O.K. boss."

I have no doubt that these comments are made in fun, but the fact remains, these are my friends and I feel a bit uncomfortable telling them what to do and the extra comments certainly do not help. I am not always sure that seeking the help of my friends is the best thing to do, however I am sure that I would like to help them earn some extra money if I can. I am just a bit unsure of how to approach the situation.

When you mix the role of friend and boss, things are bound to get a little uncomfortable. Family run business owners say the same thing; it's tough to be a dad one minute and a boss to your son or daughter the next. It takes a special blend of maturity, the ability to separate the two roles, and a clear set of expectations on both sides.

Although you enjoy giving your friends some added income, is it worth alienating them as friends? The first thing to consider is hiring other people to work in your business and avoid using friends altogether. Earning extra money is their responsibility, not yours. And if you are hesitant to correct their mistakes, are your customers paying the price?

One the other hand, if you think the advantages of using friends still outweighs the disadvantages of recruiting and hiring strangers, consider the following approach:

·        A few months before the busy season have a straightforward discussion with your friends about the situation. It's probably best to do it one-on-one. Explain that you sometimes feel uncomfortable giving them directions because of your friendship.

·        Tell them that this year you think it would be a good idea to have a clear understanding of what is expected on both sides before the season starts. Explain that you are mentioning this because you want to give them enough time to decide if they want to work with you this year or line up something else.

·        Emphasize that you need to treat them as you would any other employee in order to avoid favoritism. Explain that they are working at a disadvantage because they haven't had a chance to develop the experience of your regular employees. Tell them that you have to separate your friendship from your role as the business owner. Make a strong point about how you (and everyone in your business) needs to focus on quality for the customer and your role is to coach everyone in that direction.

·        Ask them if there is anything you say or do that bothers them when they are working for you. Perhaps you are hovering over them or over-directing them. If so, be willing to listen and modify your behavior if necessary.

This discussion should help to clear the air before they begin working for you and establish clear expectations and a framework for your working relationship. Getting it straight on the front end will help keep it straight all season long.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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