The best way to lose a friend? Hire them!

When we start out in our professional practice or business, many of our friends wish us well and want to help us. Most of us don’t want to take advantage of our friends’ generosity, so we pay them for their help. Before we know it, we’ve employed them on a part-time or permanent basis!

This usually results in a break-up or tarnished friendship. There’s plenty of psychological research on this topic, as summarised by Dan Ariely, a psychologist who focuses on behavioural economics, in his book, Predictably Irrational. This quote summarises it: “We live simultaneously in two different worlds – one where social norms prevail, and the other where market norms make the rules. The social norms include the friendly requests that people make of one another … The second world, the one governed by market norms, is very different.”

The problem is that once we switch from social norms to market norms, money issues raise their head. This is because friends are used to seeing us in one environment only – the social or home environment. They are not familiar with us in a work environment.

Some of the issues that arise when we employ a friend include:

  • They don’t feel sufficiently rewarded in the monetary sense.
  • They may feel ignored when we focus on our job of getting things done.
  • They may feel we don’t trust them because we don’t confide in them any more about our business matters.
  • They may think we don’t value their friendship because we don’t invite them to have lunch with us or coffee every day.
  • They may feel entitled to a certain amount of pay, perks and special considerations.

The worst case is when they treat their job like a pension and feel entitled to money irrespective of their performance.

Every bad idea usually starts as a good idea. But when the law of unintended consequences steps in, we usually scratch our heads and don’t know what to do.

If you are thinking about hiring a friend:

  1. Don’t.
  2. If you must, provide a position description, no matter how brief, before they start.
  3. Get a behavioural profile for both yourself and your friend so you can clearly see where your differences lie.
  4. Set rules for how you will operate in the workplace (just like a couple would).
  5. Never talk work outside the workplace.
  6. Reduce social chatter to a minimum at work.
  7. Understand the relationship must change during the work day as this is when the person is an employee, not a friend.
  8. Be as consistent with your friend as you are with your other employees.

I help business owners and professionals overcome people issues in their businesses and practices. Email me at