Hiring a mate can be a mistake

By Danielle Wright

Independent recruitment processes need to be in place when it comes to considering employing a friend, writes Dani Wright
Colleagues are suspicious when the newcomer is the boss' mate.
Colleagues are suspicious when the newcomer is the boss' mate.

It may have seemed like a good idea over drinks on a Saturday night, but hiring a mate shouldn't be something done as a spur of the moment thing - or you may live to regret the decision.

Jane Kennelly, Director of Frog Recruitment, says that although she has been lucky the few times she has hired someone she knows well, she has also had a birds-eye view of when it goes wrong -- and seen the "disastrous" results.

"The key for me was never to hire a mate without an objective and independent person involved in the recruitment process," says Kennelly, who has 28 years HR experience and remembers the days when an ad for a "man required for heavy lifting" could be placed.

"The hiring process has become quite sophisticated, so there's more of a robust framework in place and from my experience fewer people hire friends now," says Kennelly. "Suspicion from co-workers is a consideration and starts when everyone knows the newcomer is the boss' mate. That's why independent recruitment processes need to be in place - that is paramount."

The best idea is to start the working relationship -- like any business dealing -- with clear expectations and clear boundaries. The mate should be treated same, with no favouritism otherwise a negative cloud can form over the entire organisation and trusted employees can choose to leave.

"Where situations are ambiguous, trouble can happen," says Kennelly. "Frank discussions up front should be had and you also need to know that the friendship may be at risk and to weigh up whether you would mind losing the friend if the worst happens."

Family-run businesses are one place where emotions can run high and formal employment contracts can be forgotten. Entrepreneurs also have a tendency to hire a mate, then when the business grows they need to find someone who has a more sophisticated skillset suitable for the growth of their business.

"On the positive side, people who know you well, know how you think and are accustomed to your personality style and idiosyncrasies after a long-standing relationship, so there's already a high degree of trust. Where trust exists, great things can happen," says Kennelly.

To make it work, ask yourselves these questions beforehand:

Am I willing to let the mate go if it doesn't work out?

Do I have a performance system in place?

Am I getting an independent, objective person to evaluate whether they are the right fit?

Can you ensure they will be treated like every other staff member?

There's also the question of the relationship outside work. It's unlikely you'll want to spend you weekends with them if you see them day-to-day during the week. And if you do arrange to catch up with them socially, keep your plans to yourself -- the office doesn't want to feel excluded.

"Some people love their job and like to take it into the personal realm. They get a kick out of the people they work with and want work to be a fun place, but there should be time when you can unplug and be off-grid to enjoy a vibrant life with other interests," says Kennelly. "If you saw the mate socially, then you might expect that side to dwindle if you have a work relationship - there's only so much time you'll want to spend together. So, consider whether you would rather them as a workmate or a weekend-mate."

If the person is a family member then that comes with its own set of challenges and Kennelly says she has seen cases where family members have ended up not talking to each other for years because of a failed work relationship.

"The key is to get everything in writing, so everything's above board and well documented just in case it doesn't work out," says Kennelly. "In every business, conflict happens but it can be soul destroying when it's people who know each other really well."

She says there are warning signs when things aren't working out -- such as staff leaving or managers feeling uncomfortable. That's the time when you draw on the clear boundaries set at the start of the relationship so conversations can be unemotional.

And if you're the mate considering a role with a friend, make sure you're not just taking the job because it's convenient. Consider whether the salary, role and commute are a good match for your ambitions.

At the end of the day, another job will come along sooner or later. Friends and family are harder to find, so make sure the work will bring you closer, not tear you apart.

- NZ Herald

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