Last week, I worked with yet another business owner who had doubts about letting go of an underperforming, troublemaking employee. Why? She has only a few employees, and they are a tight-knit group. Friends, she said.
This raises the question: Is it smart to be friends with your employees? You might believe that it makes your day-to-day operations more pleasant, but in the long run you are asking for trouble. Consider the complications of falling into friend-employee relationships before you get too chummy.
It's not scalable. You have many personality types in your employee pool, and it's natural that, on a personal level, you will be drawn to some more than others. People will feel left out, and eventually it will be seen as favoritism. Realistically, you probably will favor your friends. Isn't that what friends do?
They won't take you seriously. As a boss, your final decisions must be respected. Your friend-employees may roll their eyes at ideas they don't agree with. They may even refuse to carry out your instructions. You'll be less likely to correct this behavior in a friend, and that sets a precedent of disrespect in your company.
It will complicate your relationship. Friendships are based on equality. As you dictate important things in your friend-employee's life, such as income, promotions, and responsibilities, it changes the nature of your relationship. Being friends should be simple. Don't complicate it.
Their personal issues will get in the way. Compassion and understanding may be important values to you; take it too far and you will jeopardize the day-to-day operations of your organization. A good friend can spend hours as a sounding board. That's great outside of work, but when it keeps you from being productive, it's a problem.
You might share things you shouldn't. You've heard me say it before: Being an entrepreneur can be lonely. If a good friend is right outside of your office door, it's difficult to refrain from unloading work-related issues or confiding about other employees' shortcomings. This is not good.
It's not fair. When it's time to promote, assign bonuses, and grant growth opportunities, you may find it difficult to separate your personal feelings from professional observations. No matter which way you lean, your friend-employee may question the validity of your decision and thereby question his or her own performance.
It's hard to fire a friend. Your friend, the graphic designer, was probably well suited to the job when you launched the company, but now you need a higher level of skill and creativity. What do you do? Logically, you replace the designer, but how do you fire a friend? It's not easy to make this one a win for either party.
Now, there's no need to go overboard here. I'm not saying that you can't be friendly with your employees. Just avoid sharing deeply personal stories and feelings. You can create a fun, innovative culture, but not everyone has to like you all of the time. It's better to lose a popularity contest among employees than lose a friend--or business--for good.