Why Your Best Friend May Be Your Best Employee

Have you ever managed your best friend? Or a close family member?

Best friends Mikey and Colby can sit for several minutes sharing a tennis ball. They aren't competitive, just enjoying the time with each other. And even though they aren't as close to the other two dogs in the family, they treat them respectfully.

My sister’s two dogs, Mikey and Colby, are best friends. Their close relationship is immediately obvious and you can feel a sense of satisfaction and happiness between them. Even their playtime is supportive; they can sit for several minutes sharing a tennis ball. They aren’t competitive, just enjoying the time with each other. Workplace dynamics are completely different in environments where people care about each other versus one of constant friction and conflict.

I bet you’ve seen situations where buddies work alongside each other, or perhaps you’ve worked in a family run business.

That can create an uncomfortable environment for some. And the perfect culture for others. I believe it’s possible to ensure you have the latter scenario with two simple rules. 

This past week I visited my sister, a woman who loves animals as much as anyone I know. She shares her home with four dogs and two cats — but you can always expect an open door to a homeless animal that needs it, whether for a day or a month. Oh yes, her husband lives there, too.

Two of the dogs enjoy a particularly close relationship. Mikey and Colby can almost always be found together, either bounding through the field or sharing a tennis ball. You can see the pure enjoyment they have for each other and it makes for a particularly happy household. Good friends, happy times. No stress.

Which got me thinking about the workplace. Since being in a work environment that is filled with loyalty and commitment to all the team members is one of the ultimate goals of any leader, why is it that so many times, good friends and family members run into obstacles working together, even though they care about each other so much outside of the office?

I offer two rules to ensuring that your best friend can be your best employee.

  • Ensure that the person is in the right job. Don’t fabricate a position so the friend or family member is gainfully employed. Every person in the company, and likely outsiders, will see that immediately and have no respect for either of you. And by all means, make sure that the person is able to perform the job functions. Offering time for training and a learning curve is completely acceptable and encouraged, but if the person is struggling long-term, don’t leave her hanging there. You are helping no one with this approach.
  • Treat every person fairly. One of the most common issues with friendships in the workplace is that the manager gives special consideration to their friend or family member. It can have many faces, such as turning a blind eye to a problem that would be enforced for another person or offering favors or perks to the other person without any work-related basis. If something special is offered, be transparent and openly communicate the reason, and let everyone know they are eligible for the same benefits with the same level of performance.

Fearful of introducing issues, some managers squelch the idea that they can socialize or become friends with people they manage. They try to eliminate the problem before it can ever arise. In theory, that has merit. I just feel that there are greater benefits to be had when employees do have a strong positive connection with each other. (Of course, I’m not recommending a forced friendship. I’m just saying don’t avoid one.)

With my two “rules” in mind, there should be no resentment or issues that develop on your team. Tight relationships that exist will only deepen the commitment to the work, which in turn will positively impact the business’s bottom line.

Man’s best friends can play together. So we can. 

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