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April 25, 2018

Small Business Advice

Hiring friends at work can damage morale, cause harm to company

Keep your friends and staff separate: "When I find myself fading, I close my eyes and realize my friends are my energy." ~Anonymous

Jerry Osteryoung | 7/22/2013

Everyone — or at least most people — wants to have friends, but managers should never be friends with staff. They should always be cordial and kind to employees, of course, but not friends.

Why? Because being a manager requires you to be fair and objective, and it becomes very difficult to remain that way when friendship blurs the line between working and personal relationships.

Even if you are actually able to maintain impartiality, the perception of fairness goes out the window when other staff knows you are friends with some of their colleagues.

I believe hiring friends is nearly always a critical mistake because disparate treatment can easily occur. For example, I know of one manager who hired her friend to work with her. It was a small office, and outside of the manager and the friend, there were only a few other employees.

This manager did not even try to hide her friendship. She let her friend get away with behavior that was not tolerated from any other employee. Obviously, morale got worse and worse.

Blind to the fact she was causing the problem by giving special benefits to her friend, the manager kept blaming staff for the failing morale. Eventually, the manager’s boss saw what was happening and, after numerous warnings, fired the manager.

Another reason friendship should remain outside the workplace is staff often cannot tell when you are talking to them as friend and when you are talking to them as the boss. This ambiguity in the workplace is not tenable. Additionally, if you ever have to fire a friend, you will lose the friendship as well.

Case in point, on a recent episode of TV’s “Deadliest Catch,” Capt. Elliot hired a bunch of his friends to help him run a fishing boat up in the Bering Strait. They eventually mutinied because he was treating them like staff when they thought he should be treating them like his friends. Ultimately, Capt. Elliot lost some very close friends as a result.

Many young managers think it is important to hire friends because they want to be liked and think this is the way to make it happen. However, being liked is not what business is about. It is always about the bottom line.

A company is not concerned with who is friends with whom, but rather who is contributing the most to helping the business grow. The best contributors are employees who respect their managers, but don’t cross the line into friendship.

Now go out and make sure that you avoid hiring friends or developing friendships with staff. Your workplace and your life will be so much better if you abide by this simple policy.

You can do this!

Other small business advice columns from Dr. Osteryoung are here. Note: Articles older than 30 days require registration (it's quick and free).

Jerry Osteryoung is a consultant to businesses - he has directly assisted over 3,000 firms. He is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University. He was the founding Executive Director of The Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. His newest book co-authored with Tim O'Brien, "If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book," is an bestseller. He can be reached by e-mail at

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