Sunday, December 19, 2010

Friends as Employees

“Who ceases to be a friend never was one.” ~Greek Proverb

Every entrepreneur wants to get the best help he or she can. However, hiring friends or befriending employees is a recipe for disaster and should be avoided if possible. Do not mistake being “friendly” and being “friends” as one in the same. You want to be friendly with your staff, but you do not want to be friends with them. There is a vast difference between the two.

Five years ago, a wonderful entrepreneur hired an office manager. This employee’s birthday happened to fall three days after she was hired, and she mentioned to her employer that her parents never really gave her much of a birthday. Hearing this, the entrepreneur went out and bought balloons, flowers and a very nice gift, and even took her out to a very nice lunch. This became a tradition that continued year after year.

The entrepreneur treated this employee as a member of the family and frequently asked her to come along on family get-togethers. Additionally, the entrepreneur kept giving this employee raises as she just could not say no to her friend. Consequently, the employee was being grossly overpaid for the work she was doing.
Over time, as the line between “employee” and “friend” became increasingly blurred, the entrepreneur began to see issues with the employee’s performance. She frequently found work that the employee had not done, but she never brought it up because she feared hurting the employee’s feelings.

The obvious solution was to let this employee go – these issues were more than sufficient to justify termination of a normal employee. But this entrepreneur had not treated this worker as a normal employee. She was a friend, and the entrepreneur was reluctant to take any action knowing the friendship would be lost.

In addition, the employee and entrepreneur shared a strong bond reinforced daily by their close working relationship. Their desks were adjacent to one another, and the entrepreneur just could not see herself running the business without this employee. She felt she was invaluable to the firm.

If not for the economic downturn, this cozy relationship would have continued indefinitely. However, as cash became tight, the entrepreneur was forced to look at all possibilities for cutting costs. As it turned out, the only element she could really control was this employee’s salary.

This was a very difficult decision for this entrepreneur, and I spent a lot of time working with her. Once I was able to articulate that all of the problems they were experiencing with the business revolved around this one employee, the entrepreneur understood what was necessary.

Did I say anything that the entrepreneur had not already considered? No. All I did was reinforce what she knew to be true. That is why advice from an outside consultant is so useful.

The entrepreneur is now in the process now of finding a replacement at a much lower salary. She has promised me that she will not make the same mistake again by befriending the new employee.

Now go out and see if a friendship you have with an employee is negatively affecting your company’s morale or the employee’s performance. If it is, you must either step back into a more professional relationship or consider letting this employee go. This will not be easy, but these issues must be addressed for the well being of your business.

You can do this!

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